Can Peru overcome scandals to succeed at Russia World Cup?

Peru took part in World Cup soccer for the first time in 36 years.

The team started with a 1-0 defeat of Denmark but its presence in Russia is an important achievement for a country that has long been considered a great South American football underachiever.

Ranked 11th in the world, with an inspirational father figure from coach at Ricardo Gareca - who has dramatically changed the team's fortunes since taking over in 2015 - and one of the world's most dangerous strikes in the air at captain Paolo Guerrero, there is a real Confidence they can becoming a potential black horse at this year's tournament.

To understand the changes Gareca has masterminded La Blanquilla, you just have to look at the litany of disciplinary incidents that have plagued that side for more than two decades.

Can Peru overcome scandals to succeed at Russia World Cup?

Peru's idiosyncrasies and soccer are so identical that even a single Wikipedia page entirely devoted to national team scandals, usually involves partying at a nightclub just days before an important World Cup qualifying match.

"Last November, I was not very optimistic, but watching their last friendly match, this is a team that is ready to reach the knockout stage," said Peruvian fan Luis Echegaray.

"It's a fairly young team but there's a lot of togetherness ... In Guerrero we have strikers physically creating problems even for the world's best defenders, most importantly, Gareca has given Peru a sense of stability that Peru has never had has been used before. "

Various theories abound for why discipline has been a problem for the Peruvian team for years.

"A lot of people feel this is an educational problem," said another fan Pedro Canelo.

"They put it for the poor training of football players in our country at a young age, and in addition, the previous national team coach was not too firm on that topic."

Others believe that it comes more from a deeply entrenched national mentality that Peru is lower than the leading South Americans like Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

This mentality can be traced back to the horrific event of 1987 when a plane carrying Peruvian team Alianza Lima returned from a league game plunging into the Pacific Ocean, killing 43 of 44 passengers.

The whole generation of the most talented young players in Peru is missing, a national tragedy Echegaray believes takes decades of the Peruvian Football Association to recover.

"These players are the main promise of the national team and all of a sudden, they are all gone," Echegaray said.

"At the same time, Jalan Cemerlang, a guerrilla group in Peru has taken over the country and terrorized the nation, so it was a very tumultuous time, and I do not think we ever found the right way to hit the reset button and start all over again."

The Peruvian teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s were full of talented players like Nolberto Solano and Claudio Pizarro. But for all their individual abilities, Peru can not find a way to create cohesion.

"Peru's biggest strength today is that they are a unit," said Julio Uribe, who runs Peru on two tasks.

"Our previous side is an individual team, I think it shows that Peru learns from past mistakes, which is important."

Uribe and other Peruvian managers are often criticized by the national media for constantly fiddling with lineups and formations, experiments that show they do not have a clear strategy.

Peruvian fans complain of no sense of identity on the side. But Gareca instead.

Big investments are also being made in improving the infrastructure behind the national team - sport psychologists are hired to improve the players' mental resilience, and an expanded scouting network exploring Peru's league to look for new signs of emerging talent.

And most importantly, the Peruvian federation supports Gareca and his philosophy, despite a poor start to the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign that saw them suffer losses against Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay in their opening six matches.

It follows 14 unbeaten streaks to reach the 2018 World Cup.

"Still believing in the project despite the poor results has been a big difference," said former Peru goalkeeper Oscar Ibanez.

"In the past, interrupting things after some loss and quickly turning managers into other managers with completely different ideas, kept us moving backwards But the other big factor is that most national team players now play in foreign leagues with a superior level to the Peruvian league, and that makes them more internationally competitive. "

For Peru, after 36 years of wounds that have covered tragedy, war, and many national disgrace, eventually becoming part of another World Cup has been the reason for the national celebration.

But this nation dared to dream that it could reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1978.

"I think we can live with other teams," Ibanez said.

"We are in a challenging group but I am sure we will reach the next round.Only in the World Cup, Peru lives in a tremendous euphoria, and the players and Gareca are national heroes.I am sure that now we will regularly escape to the World Cup through the spirit they have created. "




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