<
>

Peru's defence an asset but Paolo Guerrero absence will be fatal

play
ESPN's 2018 World Cup predictions (4:18)

Ian Darke leads the ESPN panel in predicting the 2018 World Cup winner with names of Germany, Brazil, France and England among the list. (4:18)

The 2018 World Cup is just over a month away, and all 32 teams are preparing in earnest for their shot at the trophy in Russia. ESPN FC is previewing every team ahead of the opening game on June 14. Find all 32 teams here.

Who they are

Captain: Alberto Rodriguez (in Paolo Guerrero's absence)
Manager: Ricardo Gareca
Nickname: La Bicolor or La Blanquirroja
FIFA ranking: 11

How they qualified

Peru went from an awful start to an awesome finish in CONMEBOL qualifying as a late run of form allowed them to return to the World Cup after a 36-year absence. After seven games they had managed only four points, and with only five games left they were stuck in eighth place out of 10 teams.

The arrival of Gareca took some time to produce results, but officials were wise enough to support the coach, who was eager to give chances to several local, promising players. Gareca finally found a nice blend between youth and experience and the team started producing results. In fact, Peru hasn't lost a match in over a year-and-a-half. Their last defeat was a 2-0 loss against Brazil in November 2016. Since then they have gone undefeated in 12 matches.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling against Bolivia for fielding an ineligible player against Chile and Peru gave both teams points they had not won on the field and encouraged La Blanquirroja to keep fighting for a World Cup berth. In the process, they achieved historic results, such as first-time away wins in Paraguay and in Quito against Ecuador. A final-round draw against Colombia saw them clinch the fifth spot and a ticket to play an intercontinental playoff, in which they were much better than New Zealand and sealed their World Cup return.

Biggest strength

Peru became a dangerous team by means of their defensive consistency. As a result of strong confidence in their back line, the team started breaking free and venturing forward, becoming very efficient and effective in front of goal. Their third virtue is of a more emotional nature: they are a close-knit group that resembles a family.

Biggest weakness

Without a doubt, this group's weak point is its lack of World Cup experience. Not even their manager has attended the competition, though he came close as a player to being a member of the Argentina national team that won the World Cup in Mexico 1986. Gareca was part of the squad that played the qualification matches; weirdly, he scored a decisive goal in the last round as Argentina made it to the World Cup with a 2-2 tie against ... Peru.

As far as the game goes, Peru has always suffered from set play, although they look a lot stronger in this area this time around.

Star player

Undoubtedly, their star is Guerrero, the Flamengo forward. But the problem is that his suspension has been upheld and he will miss the trip to Russia. Guerrero was suspended for six months by the CAS due to a positive doping test and couldn't take part in his nation's playoff matches.

His absence will really be felt since Guerrero is the player with the most goals in national team history. If he can't play, the responsibility to lead the team would fall to one of his best friends and the player behind him in that historic chart: Jefferson Farfan.

Projected XI

What the local media says

"The Peruvian media feels euphoric. A lot of us haven't ever seen Peru in a World Cup, and the truth is that our love for the national team has been fed mostly by defeats. Every single conversation in the street lands on the World Cup sooner or later. The media and the fans are confident and grateful for what the manager has achieved; both him and the team can count on massive support." -- Franco Lostanau

What the stats say

Prediction

Peru should take this World Cup step by step, and their objective should be to get to the round of 16: From that moment on, anything can happen. If Peru get wins against Denmark and Australia, they should end the group stage in second place behind France. After that, logic says Argentina would follow, a very difficult rival and a hard-fought match.

Franco Lostaunau is the anchor of the Peru edition of SportsCenter. Twitter: @FrancoLostaunau