Yotun: Peru have got what it takes

  • Peru aiming to reach World Cup for first time since Spain 1982

  • Los Incas fourth in South American qualifying with two games left

  • Yoshimar Yotun talks Argentina qualifier and more

"I don’t just dream about the World Cup when I’m asleep. I do it in every waking hour too!" Peru’s Yoshimar Yotun told FIFA.com with a laugh.

A happy-go-lucky character, the versatile 27-year-old is wearing an even broader smile than usual these days, and not without good reason, with Peru having just moved into the direct qualification places for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ for the very first time. In beating Ecuador on their last outing, the Peruvians made it ten points out of the last 12 to climb into fourth.

“What’s so pleasing for us is not so much seeing ourselves there but getting into this position in the first place,” said the talented full-back/midfielder. “We’ve built things up slowly and our fate is in our own hands now, which is very satisfying.”

Yotun understands why the fans had lost faith in the team: “I put myself in their shoes and I can see where they’re coming from. We haven’t been to the World Cup for a long time.” Such have been Peru’s recent qualifying woes, in fact, that he was only seven years old the last time they went into the final two matchdays of the preliminaries among the top four.

“We started off the qualifiers badly too,” he added. “It’s only natural that people should think: ‘It’s the same old story. We’re not going to make it this time either’. But even though they’re critical, they still go to the stadium and give us their support, which I’m grateful for.”

The fourth-most capped player in the current squad, with 68 appearances to his name, Yotun pinpointed the reason for the turnaround in Peru’s fortunes: “It’s down to Gareca (Ricardo, Peru’s Argentinian coach). He’s more of a friend than a coach. He’s worked in Peru before and he knows the quality of our players. It didn’t take him long to get us believing again, both as individuals and a group. He’s given us renewed confidence.”

A date with destiny A former Argentina international, it was Gareca who scored the last goal in the 2-2 draw that ended Peru’s hopes of qualifying for Mexico 1986. “We all know about that but we never mention it. Stuff like that is just for the media,” said a smiling Yotun.

Peru’s next assignment just happens to come in Argentina on 5 October, the penultimate matchday of the qualifying competition. La Albiceleste lie fifth, with the same number of points and the same goal difference as Peru, but having scored fewer goals.

“It’s going to be very tough because they need to win and they’ll be giving it everything they’ve got,” said Yotun. “If we don’t keep calm, then we’ll have problems. We’ve just won in Paraguay and Ecuador, though, and drawn in Venezuela. We’ve got what it takes.”

The all-important meeting will take place at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, Boca Juniors’ legendary home ground, where Peru knocked Argentina out in the qualifiers for Mexico 1970, the last time La Albiceleste missed out on the world finals.

“It’s an important part of our history, but we need to focus on what’s happening now,” explained the Peruvian utility player. “We can’t start thinking about how nice it would be to qualify at home against Colombia. We have to concentrate on getting a good result in Argentina.”

The stat 4 - the number of assists that Yotun has provided in his 11 appearances in this qualifying competition, more than anyone else in the Peru team.

Yotun on life in his neighbourhood

  • What does ‘ser chalaco’ mean? “I grew up in the Barrio Centenario, a neighbourhood in the city of Callao, where life is not easy and you need to be streetwise in everything you do, including football. ‘Ser chalaco’ means being crafty, like putting your foot on the ball and then slipping between a couple of players without them kicking you.”

  • What’s a ‘pichanga’? “They’re the football matches we used to play in the neighbourhood with friends and family, on a rough piece of ground and with a couple of stones for goalposts. I’d leave school early and skip meals just to go and have a kickabout. I still play pichangas when I’m on holiday.”

  • Things from the neighbourhood that have stayed with you? ”Ceviche de pota, which is a type of squid (marinated and served raw), and salsa, which is the music we have in our blood.”

Did you know? After playing for Sporting Cristal, Brazilian club Vasco da Gama and Malmo of Sweden, Yotun joined MLS side Orlando City in August, where he has teamed up with Brazilian legend Kaka: “He’s won the lot as a player and he’s down to earth as a person. You learn things just from watching him. I’m not going to ask him what it’s like to play in a World Cup because that would be presumptuous. I’ll talk to him about it, if we qualify.”