Tim Vickery’s Notes From South America: Peru Feel Absence Of Paolo Guerrero

Paolo Guerrero was on target twice in midweek – with two typical centre forward strikes – as Internacional beat Cruzeiro to qualify for the final of the Brazilian Cup. The first leg against Athletico Paranaense is coming up on Wednesday.

Guerrero chose to take part in the closing stages of the Brazilian Cup – which has huge prestige and is worth massive prize money – rather than join the Peru national team for the current FIFA dates.

His absence on Thursday was easily noted. Peru took on Ecuador in a friendly staged in New Jersey. Their opponents, under a caretaker coach, fielded an inexperienced, experimental side. Ricardo Gareca’s Peru were without Guerrero and injured striker Jefferson Farfan. But otherwise it was essentially the team that went to last year’s World Cup and recently reached the final of the Copa America.  And Ecuador won 1-0.

Peru had most of the game. But it is hard to recall a single moment of danger to the Ecuadorian goal. All of the Peruvian play was in front of Ecuador’s defence. Without Paolo Guerrero there was no attacking penetration.

Some might argue that Guerrero was wrong to put club over country. Others will point out, entirely correctly, that the fault is with the Brazilian calendar, and that big club matches should not coincide with FIFA dates.

But there is no hiding from the view that Peru have a problem. Coach Gareca lamented after the game how much his side had missed Farfan and Guerrero. But Farfan is 34. Guerrero is 35.  Time is not on their side – and Peru have no replacements in sight.

Hopes surround the 22 year old Kevin Quevedo of Alianza Lima, who came off the bench to make his international debut against Ecuador. But he remains unproven at the highest level, and he is much more of a raiding winger than a central striker.

It all means that Peru should be concerned as they build towards the next set of World Cup qualifiers. The South American campaign, the most competitive on the planet, gets underway next March. Ricardo Gareca, then, has a few months to pray for the emergence of a solution.  In the short term, though, he is probably just praying.

On Tuesday his side face Brazil in Los Angeles. Last Friday, with Neymar back in some style, Brazil played out a pulsating 2-2 draw with Colombia in Miami. Their defence down the flanks was sorely tested, especially in the first half, where Colombia established a 2-1 lead. But Brazil had plenty of attacking weapons to throw at their opponents after the break. Colombia coach Carlos Queiroz described them as the best Brazil side of the last 15 years.

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Without their captain and centre forward, can Peru pose enough of a threat to keep Brazil on the back foot? Two months ago in the final of the Copa America Paolo Guerrero was on target from the penalty spot – the only goal that Brazil conceded in the competition – and Peru staged a late charge before going down 3-1. But there was much less dignity in the defeat they suffered when the two sides met in the group phase. Brazil cruised to a 5-0 thrashing.

Gareca is well aware that over the course of the past year – with Guerrero absent – his side have lost at home to Costa Rica and away to El Salvador. Now he must take on Brazil with a pea-shooter attack. Peru’s coach will surely be hoping that his team can emerge from the game with morale intact as they build towards the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

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