World Cup 2018 team preview: Peru must cope with the loss of its captain

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group C is Peru.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook

Odds to win Group C: 11.1%
Odds to advance: 30.8%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.5%
Elo rank: 11
Yahoo Sports power rank: 14

Our writers say: In spite of doing well in recent Copa Americas, Peru hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since all-time great Teofilo Cubillas’ heyday. The drought, dating back to 1982, finally ended when La Blanquirroja snuck through to Russia via a playoff against New Zealand. Never underestimate a team that survived South America’s brutal qualifying slog. Leander Schaerlaeckens

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

From left to right: Raul Ruidiaz, Jefferson Farfan and Christian Cueva celebrate Peru’s World Cup qualification. (Getty)
From left to right: Raul Ruidiaz, Jefferson Farfan and Christian Cueva celebrate Peru’s World Cup qualification. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 5th
Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1970)
2014 finish: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Finished 5th in South America, beat New Zealand in intercontinental playoff
Schedule: Denmark (Saturday, June 16, noon, FS1), France (Thursday, June 21, 8 am., FS1), Australia (Tuesday, June 26, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad

Manager: Ricardo Gareca
Captain: Alberto Rodriguez (D)
Top players: Jefferson Farfan (M), Christian Cueva (M), Renato Tapia (M)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: Well first of all, they haven’t lost since 2016 – and that run includes matches against Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia and Croatia. All the “more than the sum of their parts” clichés apply here. Gareca has done an excellent job of molding a defense that doesn’t feature a single European-based player into one of the best in South America. And Tapia, sitting in front of that defense, is a big help. If Cueva is dazzling in his attacking midfield role and Jefferson Farfan is firing, Peru is dangerous.

Why they’ll lose games: Paolo Guerrero – captain, talisman and leading goalscorer – won’t be in Russia after having a doping ban extended. Peru, therefore, has a massive void to fill up top. It isn’t bereft of potential replacements, but all options will require at least a slight stylistic shift. And there’s no telling how Guerrero’s teammates will respond to losing their leader.

How they’ll play: They’ll play some form of a 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1, but the approach is adaptable to opponents. They can press high against a team like Australia and force the issue. They can also rein in their line of confrontation and frustrate a superpower like France.

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Pedro Gallese; Aldo Corzo, Alberto Rodriguez, Christian Ramos, Miguel Trauco; Renato Tapia, Yoshimar Yotun; Jefferson Farfan, Christian Cueva, Edison Flores; Raul Ruidiaz.

With Guerrero out, Gareca could simply draft in Ruidiaz as the closest thing he has to a like-for-like replacement. Or he could slide Farfan into the striker role, with Andre Carrillo replacing Farfan out wide. Carrillo might start ahead of Flores – or Yotun in a 4-1-4-1 – anyway.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: The controversy surrounding Guerrero’s suspension was wild. He’s a beloved figure in Peru. The nation has rallied around him, and he had gone to great lengths to clear his name. The case seemingly involved everything – even Incan mummies. Guerrero had tested positive for cocaine. He said he merely drank tea with coca leaves, and on those grounds initially got a year-long suspension reduced to six months. Doping arbitrators, though, disagreed and ruled against him.

Why to root for them: This is Peru’s first World Cup appearance since 1982. And if you watched the qualifying clincher – a 2-0 victory over New Zealand on home soil – and the subsequent party, including a national holiday the following day, you’d have fallen in love with this team and this story.

Why to root against them: Of the five South American teams, they have the least flair and the fewest big names.

If you’re going to watch one game … Peru’s first World Cup game in 36 years is undoubtedly the play. It’s against Denmark. It’s a toss-up on paper. And it’ll likely decide the group.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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