Here we go again. For the second consecutive time in the World Cup qualifiers, Peru’s fate is determined by the repêchaje (elimination) and they are once again a familiar opponent. Australia, with its beautiful outback landscapes, Aboriginal culture, schooners, Kylie Minogue and Miles Jedinak. That’s where my adulation for you ends. At least until Tuesday.
Peru will face Australia for the penultimate spot (Costa Rica and New Zealand will finish last place the next day) and a chance to join France, Denmark and Tunisia in Qatar. Again, just like in 2018, three of the four nations will be in the same group at the World Cup. The two met on the final day of the group stage as La Blanquirroja said goodbye and picked up their first World Cup victory since 1978 with a 2-0 triumph over the Socceroos. So there is recent history as four years later these two sides meet again and the stereotypical banter has already taken over. Peruvians think all Australians eat Vegemite and Australians think Peruvians get hurt if you make fun of Paddington Bear (for the record, neither is true. Especially Paddington. I love it but not a single Peruvian claiming it as one of ours since you know it was created by Michael Bond Although I love Marmalade I immigrated to England and I’m Peruvian so I guess that I am more Paddington than Paddington).
Ar-Rayyan, just west of Doha, is the venue for this match, which in itself turns out to be a questionable decision, given that the point of moving the competition to November was because the Qatari heat was too difficult to manage in June. and July. Alas, at least it’s evening local time so the temperature should be more suitable, and both teams would have had enough time to acclimatise. If we’re being honest, the tournament raises enough questions as it stands and there’s no doubt that every conscious fan faces conflicting emotions for this World Cup, so playing these games in Doha in June is the least we can do. .
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Nonetheless, Peru’s unique relationship with the World Cup is writing another page and this time it’s in the Middle East. Fate awaits Ricardo Gareca and his side of overachievers and an entire nation awaits. As I write this, there is talk of a national holiday in Peru for everyone to watch. But let’s be honest, you don’t have to tell a Peruvian to take the day off to watch this repêchaje. They do it anyway. Peru’s ambassador to Qatar expects thousands of Peruvians to attend. For Qataris, they will probably feel like millions.
Before I get to the team assessments, let me be extremely clear and unbiased. This playoff game, on paper, heavily favors Peru, who sit at -140, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The South Americans have the strongest team, play in a more competitive qualifying region, have international experience (in international tournaments and a World Cup) and have a more experienced manager who is better at managing the game than almost any other coach. in Latin America. I would even say overall. There is a collective understanding between Gareca and his team as they have been together for almost 100 matches. So if Peru don’t win it will be because of their own loss, and that’s what Australia could count on. It’s a game. Nothing else matters. So disrupt Peru’s dominance on paper and change the scenario. Finally, it is not an easy task.
Is this Peruvian team stronger than that of 2018? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s a good question depending on how you assess it. Players like Renato Tapia, Andre Carrillo, Yoshimar Yotun, Luis Advincula, Pedro Gallese and Christian Cueva, for example, all played against Australia in 2018. If they’re not better these days, they’re definitely better. smart. They should start again on Monday. On the other hand, the Australian side is extremely different from that of Russia. Their captain Matt Ryan remains their leader and their compass. Then there’s Aaron Mooy, who has just returned to fitness after not playing competitively this season and refusing to return to his Chinese Super League side Shanghai Port FC, opting to stay with the team. national. Melbourne FC’s Mathew Leckie has also played in Russia. There are members from both cycles, but overall it’s a different side. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent. It’s just mostly untested against other nations outside of their AFC region. Moving there, however, has helped them competitively as they finished third in their third round group behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, hence why they are in this tie-breaker. The main absence is Tom Rogic, previously from Celtic, who was the creative spark in midfield but left the team for personal reasons. This prompted an immediate comeback from Mooy, who looked decent but tired towards the end against the United Arab Emirates. Rogic is a big loss as manager Graham Arnold will have to use all his experience to make up for his absence. Other players to watch include Scottish-born Australian Martin Boyle, who plays for Saudi side Al-Faisaly. His craftiness on the right wing and his familiarity with the region are important for this side.
Australia are dangerous in the air and focus heavily on the wing of counter-attacking situations, especially on the right flank. But it’s their ability to slow down play with dead-ball situations that will be a focal point. Luckily for Peru, New Zealand proved to be a great dress rehearsal earlier this month. They are not as strong as Australia but pose similar challenges. Gareca, who was there when Australia beat the United Arab Emirates, knows it.
For Peru, the game should be about control. I expect dominance in possession and quick moves, with Christian Cueva pulling the strings. On his day, he is unplayable. He is a master of his own dribbling area and I expect the foul count to be high on him. Tacu Tacu Rigatoni’s Italian king Gianluca Lapadula will profit from any defensive errors while Yoshimar Yotun could also make the difference. He’s the kind of player who only needs a few minutes at any club to feel useful. Since joining Sporting Cristal as a free agent, he looks fresher and more dynamic – it’s amazing to think that no European sporting director is watching him. I know he’s 32 but he still has a lot to offer. Then again, you could say the same about almost every player in Peru. Underrated by all, but cherished by Gareca. This particularly falls at the back, as NYCFC’s Alex Callens and Boca Juniors’ Carlos Zamabrano formed the Peruvian version of the Mighty Ducks’ Bash brothers. They work very well together and their physical dominance will be very important against Australia.
The last thing to leave you with is this feeling about Peruvian football and our adoration for the World Cup. It comes from struggle, not success, and that’s why – in my eyes – it’s always going to be the biggest fan base in the world. Because it was born out of pain. In the words of Nolberto Solano, who spoke to me on ¡Que Golazo! a few months ago: “For us, we always had to do things the hard way. We had to suffer and even now, until the last, we will always suffer,” he said. When you hear the Peruvian team sing the national anthem, it’s a real cry of joy and reflection. It is a call for unity, inside and outside the field.
Viktor Frankl once said, “What must give light must endure burning,” and that might as well be an Inca proverb. Nothing is easy for Peru. Nothing.
Monday’s fixture may be in Qatar, but as mentioned, there’s no doubt you’ll see and hear plenty of red and white inside and outside the stadium. These chants are historic reminders of heroic accomplishments of the past that can hopefully push Peru to present glory.
Oh, and Monday is also my birthday. So I hope the celebrations are double. Anyway, I’ll drink Pisco Sours.
Arriba, Peru. Siempre contigo.
How to watch
- Game: World Cup Qualifiers — Intercontinental Playoffs
- Date: Monday, June 13 | Time: 2 p.m. ET
- Location: Al Rayyan Stadium — Ar-Rayyan, Qatar
- TV: FS1 and Telemundo | Direct: fuboTV (Get Access Now)
- Odds: AUD +350; DRAW +210; PAR -140 (via Caesars Sportsbook)