Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Quietly in the shadow. Peru hardly got international scrutiny – as ever. Since Argentina was no competing as host of the World Cup, Peru was considered a likelier candidate to reach the finals – after Brazil, of course. But even Peru was the current South American champion, the international interest concentrated on Argentina and Peru. Thus, Peru was able to prepare for the finals more or less without undue attention, except at home. The national team was the first to start preparation for the finals, earlier than any other country, and this provided for good journalistic opportunity to criticize. Mainly, the selection was criticized for aging – such were the observations in Mexico and Italy and Peruvian press responded in kind: the team was too old. To a point, it was true – Peru was practically depended on the players, who surprised pleasantly the world in 1970. Eight years, however, was too long a period to keep the same team. Yes, the boys won the South American championship in 1975; yes, some were well respected internationally – but they were not getting younger. In reality, Peru depended on Chumpitaz, Cubillas, and Sotil from the 1970 squad, and only Chumpitaz was over 30 by now. But... there were suspicions that the defender had forged birth date – he was thought older than his official 34 years. Few players were over 30, but somewhat the whole team was considered aging – which confronted inescapable reality: if not these players, than who? The Peruvian Federation chose a democratic and, therefore, strange approach to deliberating the 33 candidates for the final - the coaches of the entire league were asked to name their own selections and they practically named the same players. Obviously, Peru had limited resources and no other options, but criticism did not stop. The national team coach had to repeat again and again, and again, that the team is a mixture of experienced veterans and young players, and what mattered was not age, but who is in good form and blends well with others.

Marcos Calderon was the coach chosen to lead Peru and answer irritating questions. A bit of controversy surrounded not that much his personality, but the operational way of the Federation: Calderon coached Peru at the South American championship in 1975 and won it. Yet, there was another coach – without Calderon really fired – who started the World Cup qualifications, Heredia. Then Calderon became head coach again and Heredia his assistant. No clash of egos occurred and the reason for that was may be the position of Calderon in Peruvian football: he was already very respected coach, on the road to become a legend. Calderon was no newcomer to the national team – he coached Peru back in mid-1960s. He was 60 years old, vastly experienced and successfully coached various leading Peruvian team. Apparently, a coach with great understanding of the sport and new developments in it. Calderon employed different tactics for different opponents, depending on theirs and his own team strength and weaknesses. In particular, he wanted Peru to use personal defense against technical South American teams, but zonal defense against speedy and physically superior Europeans. In his estimate, there were no longer unbeatable teams – which was quite right, given the development of the game. In his view, Peru had equal chances at the finals and there was no need for panic, but for thorough preparation. Good athletic condition, collectivism, knowing opposition in detail was the key to success – and he kept special group of analysts preparing dossiers on all real and possible opponents at the finals. Not many teams had such approach – it is common today, but Calderon was a visionary in the 1970s. The man knew what he was doing, although his final selection of 22 players escaped serious international attention and still brought criticism at home.
1     GK  Ottorino Sartor                          18 September 1945 (aged 32)    Colegio Nacional de Iquitos
2     DF   Jaime Duarte                              27 February 1955 (aged 23)       Alianza Lima
3     DF   Rodolfo Manzo                          5 June 1949 (aged 28)                Deportivo Municipal
4     DF   Héctor Chumpitaz                      12 April 1944 (aged 34)              Sporting Cristal
5     DF   Rubén Toribio Díaz                    17 April 1952 (aged 26)              Sporting Cristal
6     MF  José Velásquez                           4 June 1952 (aged 25)                Alianza Lima
7     FW  Juan Muñante                             4 May 1952 (aged 26)                Club UNAM
8     MF  César Cueto                               16 June 1952 (aged 25)              Alianza Lima
9     MF  Percy Rojas                                16 September 1949 (aged 28)    Sporting Cristal
10   MF  Teófilo Cubillas                           8 March 1949 (aged 29)             Alianza Lima
11   FW  Juan Carlos Oblitas                     16 February 1951 (aged 27)       Sporting Cristal
12   FW  Roberto Mosquera                      21 June 1956 (aged 21)              Sporting Cristal
13   GK  Juan Cáceres                               27 December 1949 (aged 28)      Alianza Lima
14   DF   José Navarro                               24 September 1948 (aged 29)    Sporting Cristal
15   MF  Germán Leguía                             2 January 1954 (aged 24)           Deportivo Municipal
16   MF  Raúl Gorriti                                   10 October 1956 (aged 21)       Sporting Cristal
17   MF  Alfredo Quesada                           22 September 1949 (aged 28)   Sporting Cristal
18   MF  Ernesto Labarthe                            2 June 1956 (aged 21)              Sport Boys
19   FW  Guillermo La Rosa                         6 June 1952 (aged 25)               Alianza Lima
20   FW  Hugo Sotil                                     18 May 1948 (aged 30)             Alianza Lima
21   GK  Ramón Quiroga                              23 July 1950 (aged 27)             Sporting Cristal
22   DF   Roberto Rojas                               26 October 1955 (aged 22)       Alianza Lima
A well known squad, without surprise inclusions or omits, hardly brings lengthy commentaries. Only one foreign-based player in the team – the striker Juan Munante, playing for UNAM, Mexico. Domestic squad was handy for good preparation, especially for a team with some inescapable problems. Of course, the strength of the team was based on familiar stars – Chimpitaz, Cubillas, Sotil, Velasquez, Percy Rojas, and Oblitas. Younger talent was solid – Cueto, Munante, Duarte. The team was well balanced, but with some weaknesses in defense: one big problem was goalkeeping. Neither Sartor, nor Caceres were top class. Eventually, an Argentine was naturalized – Ramon Quiroga, playing for Sporting Cristal (Lima). Entirely unknown to the world, he was to become well known at the World Cup – and not at all for good reasons. Another problem was in the centre of defense - Chumpitaz was a bit too old and Melendes was not solid. At least in the view of the press, Leguia and Reyna were preferable, although both were stoppers. Calderon saw things differently – Reyna did not even make the final squad. The strength of the team was the attack – Cubillas, Sotil, Oblitas, Munante. All dangerous, competitive, and numerous enough to give comfortable options for variety.

As a whole, Peru was not considered neither favourite, nor outsider – not match for Holland, but fighting with Scotland for second place in the group. Perhaps a little bit weaker than Scotland, so not only good form, but also luck was needed. Critics were quick to point that Sotil was a disaster in Europe, and Cubillas apparently was no good either – both returned to play in Peru already. With fading stars, Peru needed a lot of luck to go ahead – but it was possible. They kept low profile – no complains and no joy from the draw. Calderon shrugged his shoulders: there were no outsiders nowadays, but no unbeatable teams either, so it did not matter who Peru was to play against.