The Spirited: Peru
A Copa América 2015 Profile by Jaleel Tapper-Gray
“…I watched them step into the fire, outnumbered and outclassed.”
Peru, while not having the most illustrious history in South American football, can boast 2 Copa América victories to date, which is more than that of half the rest of the competitors combined. Albeit those victories came in 1939 and 1975, Peru have performed well in recent years and came third in the 2011 competition. Historical rivals to hosts Chile, they’ll be sure to play the pantomime villain this year.
On the world stage Peru have not been as successful, and a difficult decade politically culminated in La Blanquirroja missing out on qualification for both the 2010 and 2014 World Cup. There is a clear distinction between the Peru that fights in South America and that which fights elswhere, and they are not the underdogs that many will pass them off as. In reality Peru have the potential to cause at least a few surprises owed to their less than lacklustre squad and positive footballing mentality. Unfortunately for the Peruvians, they were drawn in a group with two of the favourites, Brazil and Colombia, and their match against Venezuela is not exactly a walkover either, having lost to La Vinotinto in April this year.
Testing the Waters
Ricardo Gareca has only been manager of Peru since February of this year, and in his two games he has yet to garner a victory against either Venezuela or Mexico. Despite that, there have been positive signs that Peru can match their South American competitors.
Gareca’s managerial pedigree does not match that of the majority of other coaches in the competition, having spent a lot of his career at second division sides in his home country Argentina. He notably managed Talleres on four different occasions, success varying from struggling in the second division to earning promotion. Despite his lack of experience managing top teams, Gareca then had a very successful stint at Argentinian side Vélez Sarsfield, where he won four titles between 2008 and 2013.
A forward in his playing days, Gareca’s Peru might just surprise a few people will the type of football they play. It’s offensively minded and can be very good to watch. Paolo Guerrero will lead the attack, and even at 31 he’s shown he still has an eye for goal and is very willing to run the channels. At the age of 36, Bayern’s Claudio Pizzaro could still feature, but did not play in either game under Gareca so far.
Jefferson Farfán at number 10 is pivotal to the system, linking closely with Guerrero and the wide players, who often take up slightly more central positions as to get closer to their team mates. A wider threat will be provided by the full backs, most prominently Luis Advíncula, whose searing pace and energy is an indispensable component in Peru’s attack.
The football played between the attacking quartet has been excellent at times, with quick interchanges and movement. On their day Peru will cause even the best defences problems, and because of that have the potential to cause a few upsets. They have several options from the bench too, especially in wide areas. Christian Cueva, Joel Sánchez, Paolo Hurtado and André Carrillo have all stated their starting claim, performing well in recent friendlies.
Punching Above Their Weight
While they posses offensive prowess, it’s clear Peru can’t match the quality of Brazil, Argentina and Colombia. It’s in their mentality to attack, but that won’t always be possible. They won’t be able to control games as it suits them. In theory they’ll be on the back foot for large portions of games, and defensive organisation is not one of their greatest strengths. That is the problem posed to Ricardo Gareca’s men, how they go about balancing attack and defence, especially against sides that, on paper, they should lose to.
Even with that in mind Peru have a lot going for them, and their historical rivalry with hosts Chile will provide a further incentive for them to reach the kind of level they did back in 2011.