As Pedro Gallese led his team onto the field in Montevideo, Uruguay last Thursday night, he, his teammates, and the Peruvian supporters knew how important the following two games would be for their country. ‘El Pulpo’ has been a leader and star performer for Peru which started the campaign without a win in its first five games of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.
Thursday night in Uruguay was the tougher of the final two games, with a return to Lima to face Paraguay after. Gallese was unable to stop the only goal of the game in the opener, which saw Uruguay — without his Orlando City teammate Facundo Torres this time — qualify automatically for the World Cup in Qatar.
The goal was fortunate, coming on a cross from Darwin Nuñez that was met at the back post by Luis Suarez, who blasted it onto the bar with Gallese closing him down and filling the goal in his usual gigantic way. Sadly for Peru, Giorgian de Arrascaeta was the quickest to react, hitting the rebounded ball first time into the back of the net in the 42nd minute.
Gallese was not troubled too much for the rest of the game, with Uruguay only managing two shots on target, though Federico Valverde had Gallese flying across his goal from a strike from way outside the box, which hammered against the crossbar. The Peruvian captain was assured in taking crosses and managed his defense well, though the attack just couldn’t quite break down a disciplined and talented Uruguay side.
With Chile losing in Brazil, this meant that Peru, and El Pulpo, were one win away from securing fifth place and the playoff spot with the Asian representative from their qualifying campaign. The stadium was full an hour before kickoff and the band never stopped playing. As Gallese came out to warm up — the first Peruvian to take the field — cheers and screams for their captain rang around the national stadium in Lima.
A win over eliminated Paraguay was all that was required. Nothing else would do. And the Peruvians fought throughout and showed their class to secure a 2-0 victory.
After the first goal, scored by Gianluca Lapadula, emotions were high, and the stadium erupted. Gallese was delighted but organized his defenders and calmed his teammates to ensure they kept their heads. Former Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotun got the second goal and Peru kept their advantage for the rest of the game.
Gallese again was troubled infrequently, with only one shot on target to face. He reacted well to a misplaced pass from midfielder Yotun which let Houston Dynamo’s Sebastián Ferreira in on goal. Gallese raced off his line and closed the angles down well for the striker to hit the bar and the ball traveled over for a goal kick.
As the final whistle blew, celebrations began. Gallese and his side had guaranteed their spot in the World Cup playoff, where they will face the winner of United Arab Emirates and Australia.
One of the best goalkeepers in MLS and one of the best in South America, Gallese has moved that little bit closer to achieving a second appearance at a World Cup, an excellent achievement for Peru, especially considering their poor start to the campaign.