“My dream is to play at the FIFA World Cup™ finals,” Peru’s first-choice goalkeeper Raul Fernandez told FIFA.com. However he acknowledges that a section of the national team’s fans believe he will have to wait a while to fulfil that goal: “Part of the country feels our chances of qualification [for Brazil 2014] have already gone. As far as they’re concerned, we’ve had it.”
Asked for his views on Peru’s qualifying hopes, the FC Dallas keeper replied: “There’s less and less chance of us going to Brazil, but it’s still not over. The coach has built a close-knit team, one that works hard and is mentally strong. We’re all focusing on the same objective and we can’t wait for the match against Chile.”
Last but one in the CONMEBOL qualification group for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, Peru are far from well placed as they bid for a fifth world finals appearance and their first since 1982. Having collected only eight points from nine games, during which time they have scored ten goals and conceded 15, La Blanquirroja are down though not out. After all, they lie only four points adrift of the fourth qualification spot, currently held by Venezuela. To scale the table, however, and revive the nation’s hopes of a return to the big stage, Fernandez and his team-mates will need to up their game.
A nation expects
The former Nice custodian, who made his Peru debut in a 2008 friendly against Costa Rica, is adamant they can do just that: “We had a very productive meeting at our last get-together and then went on to beat Trinidad and Tobago, which shows to my mind that it did us a lot of good. We worked hard and we spoke our minds, and the team are well aware that they’re playing for the whole country and not just for their family and friends. We want people to feel proud of their national side.”
Three years after that debut, by which time he found himself back on loan at his first club Universitario de Deportes, having failed to break into the Nice starting line-up, Peru coach Sergio Markarian called him up for the Copa America in Argentina.
People tend to get very passionate about it, and when you don’t get the results then the pressure just intensifies.
The Peruvians surprised everyone by taking third place in the Copa, but have since found it hard to replicate that form in the qualifiers. Fernandez explained why: “In a tournament like the Copa America, you’re all staying together for several weeks and you’ve got the time to prepare for each match. It’s different in the qualifiers though. You get together just a few days before the game and afterwards everyone goes back to their clubs.”
Coping with the pressure
Is it true to say then that the top-three Copa America finish raised expectations too high for a side that had gone into the continental finals weighed down by disciplinary problems?
“No, that’s not the problem,” replied Fernandez. “There’s always pressure on the national team, especially when it comes to the World Cup. People tend to get very passionate about it, and when you don’t get the results then the pressure just intensifies.
“Still, we’re used to that, and it’s not as if we’re starting from scratch. The foundations we laid in 2011 are still useful to us today. We’ve had some low points since then, but maybe the good times are just around the corner. We’ll see.”
A goalkeeper from the moment he first stepped on to a football pitch, the 27-year-old Lima-born shotstopper has an old head on young shoulders, while retaining the enthusiasm he has always had for the game.
Described by Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman as an athletic keeper who has picked up a lot of experience with his national team, Fernandez said his ultimately unsuccessful stay in France has helped his career: “I became a better player there. Playing abroad helps you grow. It exposes you to other cultures and a different set of standards.”
High standards and plenty of experience: that could be just the recipe Fernandez and Peru need to make their distant FIFA World Cup dream a reality.