Peru are two games away from making their first FIFA World Cup™ appearance since Spain 1982.
Standing between them and a place at Russia 2018 are New Zealand, with the two sides set to contest the first leg of their intercontinental play-off on Saturday. In looking ahead to the tie, FIFA.com picks out four key aspects that allowed the Peruvians to revive what looked set to be another failed qualification campaign.
1. All hail coach Gareca
Argentinian coach Ricardo Gareca is regarded by all his players as the man responsible for Peru’s resurgence. “He’s not so much a coach as a friend,” Yosimar Yotun told FIFA.com ahead of the final two matches in the South American qualifiers. “He’s coached in Peru before and he knows how good our players are. It didn’t take him long to get us believing again, both on an individual and a team level. He restored our confidence.”
- Stat: Peru lay 64th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking when Gareca took charge of his first training session in April 2015. They now lie 10th, an all-time high.
2. Finding the right blend
When the qualifiers began in October 2015, Gareca put his faith in a 4-4-2 formation and the spine of the team that finished third at the Copa America that year. Forced by poor results to switch tactics and personnel, he eventually came up with a 4-2-3-1 system, employing it for the first time at the 2016 Copa America Centenario. From that September onwards, he would stick to it for virtually the rest of the qualifying campaign.
- Stat: Peru won a mere four points out of 18 between October 2015 and March 2016, a success rate of only 22.22 per cent. From September 2016 onwards, they upped that figure to 61.11%, collecting 22 points from a possible 36.
3. Doing it on the pitch
Pedro Gallese is the team’s undisputed first-choice goalkeeper. Only injury ever kept him out of the side and he played a decisive role as the qualifying competition reached its conclusion. Aldo Corzo, Christian Samos, Alberto Rodriguez and Miguel Trauco now form a settled rearguard, having first played together on Matchday 9 in October 2016 and with only suspension preventing them from appearing more than five times together in the last nine qualifiers. The midfield partnership formed by Renato Tapia and Yotun has, since Matchday 8, been vital in allowing wide men Andre Carrillo and Edison Flores and attacking midfielder Christian Cueva to get forward at every opportunity. Paolo Guerrero was very influential up front, but when injury struck him down the experienced Jefferson Farfan proved a more than able replacement.
- Stat: With five, four and three goals respectively, Edison Flores, Cueva and Farfan scored exactly half of Peru’s 24 goals in the qualifiers. Yotun and Cueva provided the most assists, with four and three respectively.
4. United in a cause
As Gareca’s squad has evolved, a number of players have happily taken on their role as replacements, among them Raul Ruidiaz, Yordi Reyna and Paolo Hurtado, while the likes of Luis Advincula and Farfan have responded admirably to losing their places in the starting line-up. Youngsters such as Andy Polo, Pedro Aquino, Miguel Araujo and Nilson Loyola have also broken into the squad along the way. In the process, Gareca has fashioned a well-balanced side that has risen to every challenge it has faced so far.
- Stat: Front man Ruidiaz was Gareca’s most-used substitute in the South American qualifiers, coming on in nine matches. He also started two games, in place of Guerrero on both occasions, and scored a crucial injury-time equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Venezuela on Matchday 5. Meanwhile, Hurtado came off the bench five times and Polo and Aquino four each.