Ricardo Gareca has picked a preliminary 24-man squad for Russia 2018. But can Peru make a memorable comeback to the World Cup after 36 years?

One of the participants in the very first FIFA World Cup in 1930, Peru have been on a roller coaster of a journey as a footballing nation since then. La Blanquirroja have seen their fair share of ups and downs since the inaugural edition, with their most memorable phase coming between 1970 and 1982, when they qualified for the tournament thrice.

The 1970 edition was also the most successful ever World Cup campaign for Peru, as they reached the quarter-finals of the tournament. Since 1982 though, an extended period of lull had engulfed Peruvian football, one that they have only come out from in time for Russia 2018.

Their 36-year itch for World Cup participation finally ended, and in some dramatic fashion. Peru first clinched a place in the intercontinental play-offs by drawing their final game against Colombia, that saw bitter rivals Chile go out at their expense.

Then, a vociferous home crowd inspired La Blanquirroja to a win over New Zealand, with talisman and captain Paolo Guerrero banned (more on him, later). As the South Americans get set to make their long-awaited return to the big stage, The Hard Tackle assesses their squad and their chances in the finals.

Group and Fixtures

Peru have been drawn in Group C, alongside Australia, fellow comeback men Denmark and one of the pre-tournament favourites, FranceLa Blanquirroja will begin their campaign on June 16 against the Danes, which is likely to be a potential knockout place decider. They will then play France five days later before wrapping up their group stage assignment against Australia.

The Squad

Ricardo Gareca has picked a 24-man preliminary squad that will see one player face the axe before the manager submits his final group to FIFA ahead of the June 4 deadline. Here are the players who have managed to make the cut for Peru:

Goalkeepers: Pedro Gallese (Veracruz), Carlos Caceda (Veracruz), Jose Carvallo (Universidad Tecnica).

Defenders: Luis Advincula (Lobos), Miguel Araujo (Alianza Lima), Aldo Corzo (Universitario de Deportes), Nilson Loyola (Melgar), Christian Ramos (Veracruz), Alberto Rodriguez (Junior), Anderson Santamaria (Puebla), Miguel Trauco (Flamengo).

Midfielders: Christian Cueva (Sao Paulo), Edison Flores (Aalborg BK), Paolo Hurtado (Vitoria Guimaraes), Renato Tapia (Feyernoord), Yoshimar Yotun (Orlando City), Pedro Aquino (Lobos), Wilder Cartagena (Veracruz), Sergio Pena (Granada), Andy Polo (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Paolo Guerrero (Flamengo), Andre Carrillo (Watford), Raul Ruidiaz (Morelia), Jefferson Farfan (Lokomotiv Moscow)

There had been plenty of uncertainty surrounding La Blanquirroja, largely due to the on-again/off-again ban that had been imposed on captain Paolo Guerrera in the months after Gareca’s men clinched a play-off place in the CONMEBOL qualifiers.

Back and rearing to go. (Photo courtesy - Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images)

Back and rearing to go. (Photo courtesy – Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images)

Guerrero had tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine at a World Cup qualifier against Argentina in October, which saw FIFA initially hand him a 12-month ban, even though the player claimed that the substance was accidentally consumed in a contaminated tea.

Hearing his plea, Guerrero and Peru were given a fresh lease of life, with his ban reduced to 6 months, only for the Court of Arbitration of Sport to increase it to 14 months and send their hopes crashing back down. But, the twists and turns keep on coming as Guerrero has now been cleared to play by the Swiss Supreme Court.

For now, Guerrero’s ban has been frozen and will only kick into effect post the World Cup, with CAS not intervening in the matter anymore. Peru, thus, have their captain and talisman back and can now concentrate on the main event, with the only real concern centering around his fitness.

There was  one unfortunate player though, who had to forego his place for Guerrero to return into the scheme of things, with Luis Abram missing the cut. But, the young defender is rallying behind his teammates, with Guerrero understandably a more important figure in the Peru dressing room.

The Manager

In the big leagues now. (Photo courtesy - Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Back in the big leagues. (Photo courtesy – Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

For a long time, Gareca had been infamous in Peru for scoring the goal that denied them a place in the 1986 finals, while playing for Argentina in the South American qualifiers. But, upon being named as the La Blanquirroja head coach, the 60-year-old took little time to become a cult hero in the country.

Taking over a struggling Peruvian side, Gareca first guided them to a shock third place finish in Copa America 2015. Beyond that, as they say, the rest is history. Peru have since clinched a place in the World Cup finals for the first time in 36 years, the longest a side playing in Russia has had to wait to return to the big stage.

Doing so at the expense of bitter rivals Chile only made it all the sweeter for Peru fans and with the Paolo Guerrero fiasco ending positively as well, it seems like they can do little wrong at the moment. What has also made Gareca a popular figure among the fans is the fact that he has brought eye-catching football back into the side.

Guerrero will not just lead the side out at the World Cup, but will also be the furthest forward player, literally leading his side from the front. While the Peru captain will be the sole striker, Gareca has several options to deploy in the wide areas, with Christian Cueva the creative force of the side.

But, Jefferson Farfan is likely to be picked ahead of Andre Carillo, with the veteran winger well accustomed to the conditions in Russia. On the opposite flank, Edison Flores is likely to get the nod, while the highly-rated Renato Tapia will get a lot of spotlight in midfield.

What is highly uncanny about this side is its ability to play different styles comfortably. While the front-men can press tirelessly, the men at the back as well as the midfielders can shore up the defensive side of things, if needed, with Gareca drilling his men quite well, which makes Peru a very hard side to beat.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Gallese; Corzo, Rodriguez, Ramos, Trauco; Tapia, Yotun; Farfan, Cueva, Flores; Guerrero

THT Verdict

Everything seems to be coming together for Peru under Ricardo Gareca, with the ban on star man Paolo Guerrero frozen against expectations as well. Things aren’t just going right off the field, but on it as well, with La Blanquirroja’s last beaten way back in 2016.

Argentina’s inability to beat them suggests France could have a hard time getting past Peru as well, while Denmark will likely directly go up against them for the runners-up spot in Group C. A Round of 16 place cannot be ruled out for the South Americans, who are playing some of their best football in ages.

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