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World Cup preview: Peru

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole previews Peru's chances as they return to the tournament after a 36-year absence.

Peru's World Cup history dates all the way back to the very first edition of the tournament, and they are one of only seven surviving nations from that 1930 competition who will also be appearing at Russia 2018.

Qualification for the grandest stage in football has been sporadic at best since then - indeed this is their first showing since 1982 - but they will be hoping to make up for lost time this summer.

Peru line up before their international friendly with Scotland on May 30, 2018© Reuters

A disruptive buildup to the tournament has seen captain and record goalscorer Paolo Guerrero ruled out of and then back into contention after a drugs ban which was initially reduced from 12 months to six, then increased to 14 and finally lifted while his appeal is considered.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Peru's chances at this summer's World Cup.


GROUP

Peru will not be expected to challenge for top spot in Group C - due mostly to the presence of Euro 2016 runners-up France - but they may fancy their chances of vying for second place ahead of Australia and Denmark.

World Cup Group C

Both the Aussies and the Danes - like Peru - needed a playoff to reach the tournament, and the South Americans are rated higher than either in the latest FIFA rankings.

An opening match against Denmark - who are just one place behind them in those rankings - could set the tone for the remainder of their tournament, before facing France and then Australia in their other two group games.

PERU FIXTURES

June 16: Peru vs Denmark (5pm, Mordovia Arena, Saransk)
June 21: France vs. Peru (4pm, Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg)
June 26: Australia vs. Peru (3pm, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

The South American section for World Cup qualifying was about as close as it could get, with just four points separating second place from seventh heading into the final round of matches.

The likes of Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile and Paraguay were all in the mix alongside Peru, who went into their final game against Colombia sitting fifth - a spot which was enough for them to qualify for the playoff round.

Peru players celebrate with fans after securing their place at the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

Results ultimately went their way as an own goal from David Ospina 14 minutes from time gave Peru the goal they needed to hang on to fifth place courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Colombia, who also qualified as Chile and Paraguay missed out.

It was a six-match unbeaten streak at the end of qualifying which ultimately saw La Blanquirroja over the line, recovering from a poor start which saw them win just one and lose four of their opening six games.

There was still an intercontinental playoff to negotiate, though, and Peru became the 32nd and final team to confirm their place in Russia with a 2-0 aggregate victory over New Zealand.


RECENT FORM

Peru may have only qualified by the skin of their teeth, but they will arrive in Russia with one of the most impressive unbeaten streaks at the tournament having gone 15 games without defeat.

Indeed, Peru have only conceded one goal in their last seven outings, and since booking their place at Russia 2018 they have won four games and drawn one.

Peru players in action during an international friendly with Sweden on June 9, 2018© Reuters

A goalless draw with Sweden with exactly a week to go until the start of their campaign may have just quelled the optimism amongst fans a little, although they had the right to enjoy growing momentum following a five-match winning streak prior to that.

Indeed, Peru have already beaten three fellow World Cup participants this calendar year, recording a 2-0 victory over Croatia, a 3-1 triumph over Iceland and a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia, in addition to a 2-0 success against Scotland.


SQUAD

Peru World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Pedro Gallese (Veracruz), Carlos Caceda (Deportivo Municipal), Jose Carvallo (UTC).

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

Midfielders: Renato Tapia (Feyenoord), Pedro Aquino (Leon), Yoshimar Yotun (Orlando City), Paolo Hurtado (Vitoria Guimaraes), Christian Cueva (Sao Paulo), Edison Flores (Aalborg), Andy Polo (Portland Timbers), Wilder Cartagena (Veracruz).

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


STAR PLAYER - Paolo Guerrero

Paolo Guerrero in action for Peru on June 3, 2018© Reuters

The furore surrounding Guerrero's drug ban has threatened to completely overshadow Peru's World Cup campaign but, a fortnight before the beginning of the tournament, the 34-year-old was finally given the green light to resume playing.

The news was certainly a major boost for La Blanquirroja, as they now have their leader and top scorer, but his lack of playing time could prove to be an issue.

Guerrero is an impressive performer when it comes to leading the line, with his absence in the playoff meeting against New Zealand very nearly costing Peru a place in Russia.

After spending an injury-hit four years at Bayern Munich and then moving to Hamburg, Guerrero is now plying his trade in South America, where he has scored 43 goals in 110 outings for Flamengo.


MANAGER - Ricardo Gareca

Peru manager Ricardo Gareca on May 31, 2018© Reuters

After a nomadic managerial career throughout clubs in South America, Ricardo Gareca appears to have found a more permanent home as Peru boss.

In charge since 2015, the 60-year-old will always hold a place in the nation's heart after guiding them back to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years this summer.

Gareca has also taken Peru to the semi-finals of the Copa America during his time in charge, but his main achievement as a manager is still arguably winning three titles with Velez Sarsfield in his native Argentina.

As a player Gareca featured for four of Argentina's biggest clubs - including a controversial move straight from Boca Juniors to River Plate in 1985 - and the former forward also won 20 caps for his country, scoring five goals.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Quarter-finals (1970)

Peru in action during their 1970 World Cup clash with Germany© Reuters

Peru have only ever qualified for the World Cup on four previous occasions, but three of those came within a golden era between 1970 and 1982.

Teofilo Cubillas was the star of the show in 1970 with five goals before Peru were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Pele's Brazil, who went on to lift the trophy and establish themselves as arguably the greatest team of all time.

Cubillas was still at the top of his game eight years later when they next qualified, scoring five goals in three group games as Peru once again reached the second round. However, this time they were put into another group stage where they lost all three matches against Brazil, Poland and Argentina, conceding 10 goals without reply in the process.

Another heavy defeat ended their 1982 World Cup as they lost 5-1 to Poland to finish bottom of the group, and that proved to be their most recent World Cup outing, having failed to qualify for any of the last eight tournaments prior to this summer.

Peru were in attendance at the very first World Cup in 1930, though, where they were beaten by both Romania and hosts Uruguay in the group stages.


PREDICTION

Peru look like a good bet to qualify from Group C, although it would take an upset along the way if they were to beat France to top spot.

As runners-up their most likely opponents in the last 16 would be fellow South Americans Argentina, who should have too much for Gareca's side.

VERDICT: Last 16

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