The Peruvian National Team will make history on Saturday when it kicks-off its campaign in the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Denmark. After all, the team led by Orlando City SC midfielder Yoshimar Yotún is returning to the big stage after a 36-year gap as the South Americans had last competed in the World Cup in Spain 1982.
It will be a moment of excitement and euphoria for the entire country, but the Peruvian squad should keep its feet in the ground as their World Cup debut at the Mordovia Arena, in Saransk, could very well set their destinies in Russian soil.
Besides Peru and Denmark, Group C also has the national teams of France and Australia. While Les Bleus are expected to dominate pool play and perhaps contend for the World Cup title, the Socceroos are arguably the less capable team of the four, which in theory leaves the second spot in the elimination round up for contest between the Peruvians and the Danish.
Momentum is definitely on Peru’s side as the South Americans are undefeated for 19 months now. Their last setback came at the hands of Brazil in the qualification tournament for the World Cup and the team has won four of its five friendly matches before heading to Russia.
The fact that star forward and team captain Paolo Guerrero was cleared to play after being suspended for testing positive in an anti-doping control is another incentive for the Peruvians. Alongside Yotún, center back Alberto Rodríguez and forward Jefferson Farfan, he’s one of the key players of head coach Ricardo Gareca’s system.
Denmark should pose a real treat to the Peruvians, though, as the Scandinavian had a solid performance in the European qualifiers, winning six of their 10 matches. They have some athletes playing important roles for some of the major European clubs such as goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City), defenders Simon Kjaer (Sevilla) and Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and midfielder Christian Eriksen (Tottenham).
Danish coach Åge Hareide is a familiar face to Yotún, as the midfielder played for him while he was with Swedish team Malmö, his last club before joining the Lions.
“He likes his teams to play with speed and that they get to the opponent’s box as quick as possible,” Yotún told the Peruvian media. “For him, the less touches, the better”.
It will be an emotional moment for Peru, but it also has the potential to be a match that decides the team’s fate in the World Cup. Led by Yotún, they need to start the tournament on the right foot to make the most of their journey in Russia.
Good luck, Yoshi!