Having not featured in a World Cup finals since 1982, Peru’s route to ending their 36-year wait was a dramatic one. After initially losing their first game 2-0 to Paraguay, the result was later turned around and given as a 3-0 victory to Peru, after it was deemed that the Paraguayan-born Bolivian sub Nelson Cabrera was ineligible. The return leg was a nervy affair, with Peru just about coming away with a 2-1 victory. In their final group game against Columbia, their qualification campaign looked like it was doomed to failure again, until a mistake by the Columbian keeper David Ospina sent an indirect free-kick into the Columbian net, giving Peru a point and a play-off place. Two shaky play-off games against New Zealand later, and Peru emerged victorious, on their way to Russia, and having achieved ten games unbeaten for the first time in 78 years.
Drawn in a tough group with France, Australia and Denmark, after witnessing their remarkably dramatic qualifying campaign, it would be unwise to completely disregard Peru’s chances. It is so long since Peru have been in a World Cup finals that none of the current squad was even born when they participated in 1982. Their lack of World Cup experience may leave them overawed, which would be detrimental to their slim chances of proceeding to the next round. Peru need to ensure they hit the ground running in Russia this summer.
- Edison Flores (Aab) – The 23-year-old Flores was Peru’s success story of the qualifying campaign, with the midfielder being their joint top scorer, netting five goals. A versatile and energetic youngster, Flores is the main creative brain of the national side, and responsibility will fall on him to be the primary playmaker in Russia. The question is whether he can deliver on such a large stage as the World Cup, or if the pressure will be too much for him.
- Pedro Gallese (Veracruz) – In previous times, Peru needed to nationalise Argentinian goalkeepers, as they were not developing any goalkeepers themselves. This all stopped when Gallese came along. At just 27 years of age, Gallese is only coming into the prime of his goalkeeping career. He was most impressive when called upon during qualifying games, producing big saves when needed.
Ricardo Gareca – Gareca took charge of the Peruvian national team back in 2015, and since then he has made significant improvements. Peru have historically been a team that were prone to collapse completely in games if things started to go wrong. Gareca has strengthened the mentality of the team and brought calmness and composure to their play. He knows his players extremely well, having identified youngsters with potential early on in his tenure, and stuck with them as poor results turned good.