Who neutrals should support in Russia

Former England soccer goalkeeper David Seaman, left, and former Brazilian soccer player Cafu attend a presentation of the 2018 World Cup Man of the Match trophy in the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. The Final Draw for the 2018 soccer World Cup in Russia will take place on Dec. 1 in the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The United States’ failure to qualify for the FIFA World Cup left many fans searching for a team to support, but look no further. Peru should be a fan favorite for neutrals in Russia.

Sports fans love an underdog, and international soccer is never short of them. At the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica defied odds and reached the quarterfinals of the competition. Iceland also recently captured hearts at Euro 2016 when the small nation surprised many with their performance. While Iceland have reached the World Cup for the first time in their history, given their performance two years ago, it is no longer “cool” to support them; they already had their Cinderella run.

Claiming the No. 11 team in the world is an underdog may be a reach, but given Peru’s history and lack of world recognition, it is a fair statement. It is La Blanquiroja’s first time reaching the top international competition since 1982, when they were knocked out in the group stage. Peru qualified for the World Cup after defeating New Zealand via the Intercontinental playoff.

Peru’s failure to reach the World Cup finals can be attributed to the difficulty of qualifying out of South America. The confederation receives 4.5 spots for its 10 teams. Of those 10 teams, seven rank amongst the top 30 teams in the FIFA World Rankings. The difficulty is further evidenced by the fact that Chile, the No.10 team in the world, failed to qualify for the World Cup. The difficulty of the region also has to do with why I believe they will have success in Russia. Consistently playing against Argentina and Brazil have prepared Peru to take on any top European side. In 2014, Uruguay, another team that barely reached the World Cup out of South America, came in fourth place.

Recently, Peru has had success in South America’s continental competition, the Copa America. Los Inca have finished third in two of the last three editions of the tournament dating back to 2011. The core from the 2011 and 2015 teams is still largely intact and is a group of players filled with big game experience.

Since taking charge of La Blanquiroja in 2014, Ricardo Gareca’s side have won 43 percent of their games. The Argentine has been able to implement his possession-based system into the team. Unlike some teams, Peru does not have one star but rather are well balanced. Veterans Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero both have a wealth of experience in the world’s top leagues. Additionally, Los Incas also boast younger explosive players like Andre Carrillo and Cristian Cueva. During the qualifying stage, Peru was the fourth high scoring team in CONMEBOL.

Peru’s defense is a red flag, as they let in 27 goals in 18 games. In a short tournament like the World Cup, these defensive deficiencies can be exposed, as goal differential is typically used as a tiebreaker. 

Today is the draw for the World Cup and could likely have an impact on this prediction, but I will stick by it. Peru are in Pot 2 and as a result, will likely end up in a favorable group.


Antonio Salazar is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at antonio.salazar@uconn.edu.