Claudio Pizarro is an important figure in German football. The 34-year-old Bayern Munich striker has just become the Bundesliga's all-time highest-scoring foreigner with 160 goals, while the Peruvian is now also the overseas player with the most appearances in the competition (337).
Yet it has not all been smiles recently for Pizarro, whose original move to Europe all those years ago paved the way for a host of compatriots to follow suit. On 11 September this year, Peru were a step away from beating Argentina and taking maximum points from their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying double-header, having sank Venezuela 2-1 days earlier.
Nevertheless, their lack of cutting edge in the final third, highlighted by the captain’s early penalty miss, left Sergio Markarian’s team ruing what might have been, as the game finished 1-1. Just days ahead of upcoming qualifying visits to Bolivia and Paraguay, Pizarro spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about both his and his team’s current situation, as well as the dream of ending his nation’s 32-year absence from a FIFA World Cup.
FIFA.com: Claudio, you have just broken another record in the fiercely competitive Bundesliga. Did you imagine achieving something like that when you left Peru for the first time in 1999?
Claudio Pizarro: To be honest, I didn’t. When I left Peru I had dreams and aims, like winning important titles and playing for a big club, but if I’m honest, it never crossed my mind that I might break records like this. It’s something that makes me very proud.
Of those 337 matches, do you remember any one in particular?
There are always special games, but the one that stands out most is with Werder Bremen when we beat Bayern Munich 5-2 away (in 2008/09). I’d played for Bayern for many years and we put five goals past them at their own ground - that’s something that will go down in history. Another game would be my first ever Bundesliga start. We beat Kaiserslautern 5-0 in Bremen and I had a great match and scored a goal.
What does it feel like to be a player who opened the door to Europe for many of your compatriots?
To have contributed to the international development of Peruvian football is something very special and it makes me very happy to see other Peruvians playing in Europe’s top leagues. Our football needs increasing numbers of our players to move to Europe to gain the international experience our national side so urgently needs.
I’m absolutely convinced that we can do it and I think the Peruvian public are starting to believe it too.
Speaking of the national team, did the draw with Argentina leave a sour taste?
Without doubt: we believe we could have won that match. It was very important for us to get all six points because we weren’t in a good position in the table. However, the four points gained give us a lot of confidence and the possibility to keep dreaming of the World Cup.
Do you agree that Peru should have more points than the seven they currently have?
Yes, we think we have a very strong team when we’re all available. Unfortunately, in the majority of our games important players have always been missing and we’ve struggled to replace them.
After the Argentina game, you were heavily criticised for the penalty which Sergio Romero saved. How do you view such reactions?
They’re things that happen in football and I took it all calmly. When things aren’t going so well, there’s always criticism, that’s normal. But I have a lot of experience and I know how to handle such situations.
How do you view your own performances in qualifying?
Things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped, but I’m convinced they’ll improve. It’s very important that we arrive in the best shape possible to each of the remaining qualifying games.
Sergio Markarian has said that, in Peru, a negative result soon generates a wave of pessimism among the home fans. Will it therefore be a positive thing that the next two games are away?
When we don’t get the desired result at home, people get impatient and lose faith in the team. But we believe we have fantastic support when things are going well. Home games are vital if we wish to qualify, which we're all desperate to do, and that’s why we need the fans behind us. Playing away is always difficult, but as things stand it's important to also pick up points on the road. We’re confident that we’ll do well.
You’re playing Bolivia and Paraguay away. How many points would you be satisfied with from those games?
The idea is to win every match and I think six points are feasible, although it won’t be easy. You need to win your home games in order to qualify, and we’ve already dropped crucial points there. Now we need to recoup them as the away side.
Which are the strongest teams in the competition?
Argentina and Uruguay are the most likely to qualify, although Colombia are doing very well right now. It’ll be very tight right up until the end. The teams that can consistently play to a high level are the ones that will qualify.
Is it pushing things too far to think that Peru could qualify?
I’m absolutely convinced that we can do it and I think the Peruvian public are starting to believe it too. It’ll be difficult, but we’re prepared for the remaining qualifying fixtures.
To finish off, we would like to know what unfulfilled dreams you have with the national team…
I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: my dream is to reach the World Cup with my country. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.