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Guerrero is on fire – Can Peru qualify for Russia 2018?

Friday 16th June 2017
The veteran striker is well known for his time spent in Germany with both Bayern Munich and Hamburg SV, but now he is ripping up the South American streets for Peru. They are five points off from going to Russia with four games to go. Can Captain Guerrero and his rich form take Peru to their first World Cup since 1982?

The heroics of Teofilo Cubillas at the World Cup are distant memories for Peruvian football fans. The archaic attacking-mid scored ten goals across two tournaments in 1970 and 1978. That includes his hat-trick against Iran in the '78 primary group stage.

Now, a new, yet aged hero has emerged with a realistic chance to guide the country back to the global tournament. Paolo Guerrero has never played at a World Cup before. Although time is running out – at the age of 33, he'll 34 by the time the tournament kicks off in Moscow, it's doubtful he'll still be playing at 38 for the Qatari tournament.

His talent was picked up by Bavarian football giants Bayern Munich, who signed the Peruvian when he was just 18 years of age. Despite being used as a rotation option, he still enjoyed success with the side picking up four titles with the club. He, however, moved away from the championship-consuming side for a different experience in German football with Hamburg SV. With Der Dino, Guerrero established a rhythm for first team football and enjoyed the 2007/08 and 08/09 seasons, scoring fourteen goals for his side in both of them. After which he returned to South America, first to Corthinians where he scored the winner in World Club Cup final against Chelsea. In 2015 however, he moved from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro as he joined Flamengo.
Despite his age, he's remained a pivotal part of the Peruvian national side since 2004 making 80 appearances and scored 31 goals in the process. In recent years the player has really fortified into a formidable force since his return to his home continent. Three years ago, he became the top foreign goalscorer in Corinthians history, top scorer in the 2015 Copa America tournament which put him into the team of the tournament.

It's his recent form that has really inspired the nation to believe him and the national side, he's scored in his last five games for the national side and got a few assists along the way too. Notably scoring in Peru's last two competitive games against Venezuela and Uruguay. Head coach of Peru, Ricardo Gareca, has undoubtedly used Guerrero as leadership and front forward option. He's also been in fine fettle for Flamengo as well, with three goals in his last six games across all Brazilian competitions. Infused with Peruvian spirit, there's real belief that this side can make it to Russia.
A video highlighting the forward's contemporary play for both club and country.

The CONMEBOL qualification campaign sees ten teams compete for several places at the World Cup in a round robin league where all the teams play each other home and away. The top four teams in the table automatically qualify, Brazil, are the only team from the Confederation to guarantee their participation so far. The fifth-placed side gets the opportunity to qualify but have the ominous task of having to play a team from another confederation in an intercontinental playoff. Usually contested home and away across all corners of the world.

Peru is currently seventh in the table, but it's in a delicate position with just six points separating second-placed Colombia and eighth-placed Paraguay. Making it a fascinating showdown to see who represents South America in Russia next summer. With Peru in their current form, they could easily skyrocket up the table and make their way to the former USSR bloc.

Out of the 18 games, each team has to play, we are 14 deep, meaning there's four more for Peru to salvage their Summer 2018 plans. Guerrero will have to stay fit and in good form, as the next game isn't until the 31st of August.

First up is Bolivia at home, an ample opportunity for three points given the Bolivians have already eliminated from contention of playing next summer; a direct result of losing ten games and scoring the fewest amount of goals in the qualification campaign.

On match day 16, Guerrero lines up with his teammates in Quito in what will be a slightly trickier match away in Ecuador. They are currently one place higher than the Peruvians, but Ricardo Gareca his side come into the game in slightly better form and a psychological advantage haven already beaten Ecuador in the campaign.

The last two matches, however, provide a much sterner with a test. Argentina away and Colombia at home. Lionel Messi and company have fallen short and currently sit in fifth placed position whilst Colombia are second in the table, an attestation of their successes and quality of national side. Given the calibre of sides, Peru is up against on the last two match days, it's important that they get the most out Bolivia and Ecuador; before assessing the game plan for the last two matches.

With the clocking ticking close to the end of Guerrero's career, this is likely to be his last chance to play at a world cup. He'll have to rally the rest of the team and put a shift in himself to do it, but given the points on offer, there's no reason why he and Peru can't play in Russia next summer.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 

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