So what do you do when your star player, your captain and your all-time leading goal scorer is banned from international play due to drug use? You usually have two options: you can crumble and start looking for excuses, or you can turn to you coach, your mentor, the guy that is nicknamed "El Tigre", and start playing even harder. And them you add a prayer. Or two.
After it qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia for the first time after an absence of 36 years, it was announced that Peru captain Paulo Guerrero, arguably the team's best player, was banned from international play for a period of 12 months after he was tested positive for cocaine, therefore he will miss the World Cup tournament. The former Bayern Munich and current Flamengo striker is Peru's all time top goal scorer, with 33 goals in 84 appearances. That's quit a blow for the white and red.
But Peru has Ricardo Gareca directing the team behind the lines. The man in charge apparently has no fear. You see, he started out his career for Boca Juniors in Argentina alongside one, Diego Armando Maradona, and then moved across town to hatred River plate, no less. And while taking over the Peru's national team, he had to do what few managed: add discipline to a team that for years has played like a group of individuals. As all indications has shown, Gareca has done a pretty remarkable job.
Peru first qualified for the first World Cup in Uruguay 1930, where it lost both matches it played. It them had to wait 40 years, until 1970 World Cup Mexico, where it reached the quarter-finals. It was the golden age of Peruvian football, and the main man was striker Teofilo Cubillas. They called him "Pele of Peru" and he scored in each and every match Peru played – once against Bulgaria in a 3-2 win, twice against Morocco in a 3-0 win and once against West Germany in a 1-3 loss. Cubillas also scored against Brazil in the knockout round, but Peru lost 2-4. In Argentina 1978, Cubillas again scored in Peru's two group stage wins over Scotland and Iran and Peru advanced to the knockout stage, where it met host Argentina to what is still considered one of the strangest matches ever played. Argentina needed a 4-0 win over Peru when the two met at the last match of the 2nd group stage. The hosts won 6-0 in what looked like a fixed scored. Over the years, many stories surfaced around that match and it remained a mystery up to date.
Peru also played in Spain four years later and drew two games and lost once, finishing last in its group.
Ever since, the national team of Peru was in a landslide. Until Gareca came in 2015 and introduced a young side, who once again play the Peru way, with short passes and, well, discipline. And that allowed fans to celebrate the only possible way in Peru: When Jefferson Farfan scored the go-ahead qualification goal, seismographs in Lima registered an earthquake, no less.
Roberto Palacios is Peru's most caped player, with 128 appearances between 1992-2007.
Peru plays its home matches in 50,000 seat Estadio Nacional in Lima.
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