Australia will face their sternest test of World Cup qualifying when they face off against Peru on Tuesday morning in a do-or-die encounter that will determine who heads to Qatar for the FIFA World Cup in November.
After struggling through the initial games in CONMEBOL qualification, which included a shock loss at the hands of Bolivia, Peru have upped their game in the past few months and managed to bundle Columbia out of the World Cup frame with a decisive 1-0 victory away from home.
La Blanquirroja then solidified their 5th place spot in South American qualifying with a 2-0 win against Paraguay where the home crowd in Lima pushed the team across the finish line. While not possessing the star power of some of their South American counterparts, Argentine manager Ricardo Gareca has managed to instil a functional, high-pressing and attractive style of football with the Peruvian national team which has allowed them to arguably punch above their weight.
When thinking of Peru, Australian minds will immediately be drawn back to the 2018 FIFA World Cup where Gareca’s side stamped out any hopes that Australia could proceed into the Round of 16 as they defeated the Socceroos 2-0 courtesy of goals from André Carrillo and combative frontman Paolo Guerrero.
While the latter, now aged 38, is no longer a part of Gareca’s setup, Carrillo is still a crucial asset for Peru and heads into Tuesday’s encounter in good form off the back of some strong performances for Al-Hilal in the Saudi League.
Although Guerrero and national hero Jefferson Farfán are notable losses since the last time the two sides faced each other, not much else has changed for La Blanquirroja. The team remains largely similar and, more importantly, the identity and ideology of football is almost identical courtesy of Gareca’s stint in charge which extends back to 2015.
With Doha’s Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium set to host the massive fixture, Peru are in somewhat unfamiliar surroundings compared to the Socceroos who have used Qatar’s capital as a home away from home during their qualifying campaign while Australia remained out of bounds due to COVID-enforced quarantine requirements. This could prove to be a decisive advantage for Graham Arnold’s side as Peru are not as accustomed to training in the scorching climate of Doha or playing in the much-heralded air-conditioned stadiums.
Gareca’s side are not prolific goalscorers, nor are they immensely staunch in defence, rather they thrive on playing individual fixtures on their own terms and adapting to the state of the game. For context, only Paraguay and Venezuela registered less goals than La Blanquirroja during CONMEBOL qualifying.
In terms of style, Peru are a short passing team who keep tight distances between the midfield and the wide players to ensure that each individual can always make an outlet pass. They have clear structures with respect to their midfield in early phases of possession, but in the final third, their players have the freedom to express themselves via 1 v 1 actions and creative passing sequences.
With that said, however, it seems likely that Peru will be without hugely important midfield maestro Yoshimar Yotún who looks set to miss the do-or-die match through injury. With 118 caps to his name, the 32-year-old carries a great deal of experience but is also the glue which holds their team together. He is adept at positioning himself ahead of the ball, making decisive passes and assisting in build-up when required.
While Yotún is a big loss for Peru, he will likely be replaced by fellow Sporting Cristal midfielder Christofer Gonzáles who is less robust but perhaps more attacking and expressive than the former Mälmo midfielder.
Aside from that, Peru are a vastly experienced side and were, on average the second oldest in South America during World Cup qualifying. Whether this experience helps them over the line on Tuesday remains to be seen but it is almost certain that Gareca’s side will not go down without a fight.
Renato Tapia (Celta Vigo, Spain, Defensive Midfielder)
Plying his trade in Spain’s top tier, Tapia is a hugely important player for Peru and is typically stationed as a single pivot at the base of midfield. Not only is he adept at receiving the ball under pressure, but the former Feyenoord midfielder is comfortable at playing progressive passes from deep and has a silky first touch. With 74 international caps to his name any just the age of 26, Tapia has been an ever-present figure in Gareca’s side since he took over the job in 2015.
Tapia is also combative, fearless and robust meaning that he is more than capable of retrieving loose balls in midfield while winning the majority of his defensive duels. Perhaps most uniquely, Tapia is willing to play diagonal long passes to Peru’s wide players when the need arises and ranked 4th for long passes per 90 among all players during CONMEBOL qualifying.
Miguel Trauco (Saint-Étienne, France, Left Full-Back)
Trauco is a confident and prototypical attacking full-back who enjoys bombing forward and creating attacking opportunities for his side. A precise yet daring passer, Trauco is a creative outlet for Peru and often forms dangerous triangles with Yotún and Christian Cueva on the team’s left hand-side.
The 29-year-old’s passing range is perhaps best explained by the fact that he ranked 1st out of all players in CONMEBOL qualifying for progressive passes per 90, although he does have the tendency to lose the ball by attempting these actions. While struggling for minutes in Ligue 1 – possibly due to his perceived weaknesses defensively which include getting caught too high up the pitch – Trauco continues to form a key part of Gareca’s side with his creative nous from full-back.
Gianluca Lapadula (Benevento, Italy, Centre-Forward)
Combative and exciting to watch, Lapadula is Peru’s primary goalscorer and can be deadly when given the chance. Born in Italy, Lapadula battled through his home country’s lower tiers before producing a breakout season with Pescara in Serie B. His 27 league goals in the 2015/16 season earned him a shock move to AC Milan before eventually being shipped off to Genoa for €13m after one season with the Italian powerhouses.
Since then, Lapadula has plied his trade in Serie A before he was relegated with Benevento. At the peak of his powers, Lapadula was called up for the Italian national team but never actually featured in a competitive game meaning that he remained eligible to represent Peru through his family background. Since making his debut for La Blanquirroja at the age of 30, Lapadula’s fearlessness and tenacity has stood out and he gives Gareca’s side a different dimension.
Since the gradual phasing out of Peru’s all-time leading goalscorer Guerrero, Lapadula has taken up a greater sense of responsibility for the side and has demonstrated his strong capacity to occupy the opposition’s last line while also playing off the shoulder in transition.
Christian Cueva (Al-Fateh, Saudi Arabia, Left-Winger)
A confident and decisive wide player, Cueva shoulders a great deal of Peru’s creative responsibility in the final third. He is the type of player to get viewers off their seats with his eye-catching dribbling, forward runs and desire to shoot from outside the box when given the opportunity.
Cueva has played the majority of his career in South and Central America and struggled at both Rayo Vallecano and Krasnodar on the two occasions that he dipped his feet into the European waters. Capped 91 times by Peru, Cueva is now a hugely important foreigner with Saudi League club Al-Fateh and has scored eight goals and registered five assists this season.
Cueva is also capable of retaining the ball in tight spaces and will likely be tasked with targeting either Nathaniel Atkinson or Fran Karačić on Australia’s right hand-side.
How will they line up?
Gareca is likely to line up in his classic 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 shape with Tapia at the base of midfield. With Yotún out, there is the possibility that Peru could opt with a double pivot but it is more likely that Gonzáles simply fills Yotún’s role on the left of the midfield trio.
They like to press high in order to curtail the opposition’s build-up and this is unlikely to change against the Socceroos, irrespective of how either side lines up. Sergio Peña is an aggressive ball-winner high up the pitch and could play a role in thwarting the seminal influence of Aaron Mooy in Australia’s early phases of possession.
Former Rayo Vallecano full-back and 105-time international Luis Advíncula heads into the game under an injury cloud but is an immensely important figure for Gareca’s side so he will likely be risked. Trauco and Advíncula are, therefore, tipped to be the full-backs and will retain license to bomb forward and overload Australia’s lateral defenders – an area where opposition sides have been able to attack Arnold’s side.
They will be ably supported by wide players Cueva and Carrillo who can come inside and create space for the full-backs to overlap, but are also more than happy to run at Australia’s full-backs and make them defend in 1 v 1 situations. Such is their confidence and dribbling prowess that only Paris Saint-Germain duo Lionel Messi and Neymar registered more progressive runs than Peru’s wide players during South American World Cup qualifying.
With that said, Peru’s full-backs, and in particular Trauco, have been known to be slightly suspect defensively so Martin Boyle may be looking to feast upon any times where Trauco gets caught too high up the pitch.
Peru are extremely well-drilled in their style of play and will not abandon any of their team principles against Australia. They enjoy short passing sequences and play significantly fewer long passes (41.14 vs 50.15), lateral passes (141.86 vs 196.08) and backwards passes (61.91 vs 73.46) than the Socceroos, indicating that they are more assured, daring and possess more cutting-edge in possession.
Out of possession, Peru are aggressive and their defenders are willing to actively cut out opposition attacking sequences. Led by Alexander Callens and Carlos Zambrano, Peru have immense experience, heart and guile in their back four. However, they have shown themselves to struggle at times when opposition teams press high and this duo in particular have been caught dawdling on the ball and not looking too comfortable when placed under pressure.
Ultimately, with no real selections headaches aside from Yotún, Peru will field a similar XI to those they played with during CONMEBOL qualifying and they will hope that whatever XI they field is capable of outplaying the Socceroos.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1)
Gallese; Advíncula, Zambrano, Callens, Trauco; Tapia; Carrillo, Peña, Gonzáles, Cueva; Lapadula