SOCHI, Russia: Singing and dancing fans arrived in droves from South America after three decades of waiting to see the red and white of Peru play again in soccer’s biggest tournament.
What Peru delivered for the tens of thousands who followed every move of the team in Russia was optimism they won’t have to wait another 36 years to see Peruvians play in the World Cup.
“We’re going back home not with a sense of revenge but with a slight sense of frustration that we’re going back home with less than we deserved,” Peru striker Andre Carrillo said through a translator. “I think we showed that we have a very high level of football, and we leave with that feeling.”
Peru closed out its World Cup by beating Australia 2-0 on Tuesday, its first win in the tournament since beating Iran 4-1 in 1978. Even though Peru was eliminated before its final group match, the impression it left on the tournament was obvious.
Peru lost to Denmark and France by matching 1-0 scores while creating numerous chances to come away with either a draw or victory. Even Denmark coach Age Hareide noted after the Danes advanced to the knockout round that Peru had played the best of any of the four teams in Group C.
Compliments mean little as the Peruvians head home. But the style and quality of their play created optimism that they are no longer pushovers among their South American foes and that they could be back at the World Cup in four years.
“I think we’re improving. I think we can rise to the challenge,” Peru coach Ricardo Gareca said. “Obviously there is a long way ahead of us and we need to continue to improve, but I think we are a team that can continue to grow over time. That is my final conclusion. I can repeat we went in with greater expectations. However, if we look at how we played, I think that Peru emerges from the World Cup with its head high.”
There were signs Peru was coming out of a swoon that included a last place finish in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying for the 2010 tournament. Peru finished third during the 2015 Copa America in Chile, and a year later at the Copa America Centenario played in the United States, the Peruvians pulled off a 1-0 upset of Brazil to win their group before falling to Colombia on penalties in the quarterfinals. In World Cup qualifying, the Peruvians played to a 1-1 draw with Colombia on the final day while Chile lost to Brazil, earning Peru a spot in the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand. Peru ousted New Zealand 2-0 over two games.
Peru’s lineup is also filled with youth. Take away captain Paolo Guerrero, who is 34, and the rest of Peru’s starters against Australia were under 30. Several players on its World Cup roster were under 25, including 22-year-old midfielder Renato Tapia, who started two matches. Peruvians are also venturing more outside South America in club play. Among its starters against Australia, four play in Mexico, three in Europe and one in the U.S.
“It definitely benefits us to know different leagues and to gain experience as well as reward and titles in other competitions,” Carillo said. “I think that our players who play in Mexico are doing great things also. We need to go abroad and not stay within the bounds of Peruvian football.”—AP