Peru coach goes to World Cup, 32 years after missing it as player
Coach Ricardo Gareca guided Peru to a long-awaited World Cup yesterday morning (Singapore time) and, in doing so, moved a step closer to fulfilling his own dream of gracing football's greatest tournament.
In Lima yesterday, the 59-year-old's side clinched the last spot for next year's showpiece in Russia after beating New Zealand 2-0 in the play-off second leg. Last week's first leg in Wellington finished goalless.
Over 30 years ago, Gareca was cruelly denied the chance to take part in the 1986 edition as a player for eventual champions Argentina.
Playing as a striker, he scored the goal that guaranteed them their place in Mexico in a 1985 qualifier, ironically against Peru, the team he would coach three decades later.
However, Gareca did not make the final squad that, thanks largely to Diego Maradona's guile and brilliance, would lift the title at the Aztec Stadium in 1986.
Gareca was dropped, an experience he later described as one of the bitterest of his career.
Now, the man known as "The Tiger" can look forward to a summer in Russia, with a team he has patiently built back to something resembling its best.
"Mission accomplished, thank you," Gareca said after goals from Jefferson Farfan and Christian Ramos gave Peru a historic victory.
"We have managed something very important for the country. I am very emotional."
After coaching several South American clubs, Gareca was hired as Peru coach in 2015, tasked with taking a talented side back to the Finals for the first time since 1982.
His 2½ years in charge started inconsistently and some Peruvians, unwilling to forget his decisive goal in 1985, were quick to call for his head.
He persevered and led Peru to the 2015 Copa America semi-finals, but they struggled in the early World Cup qualifiers, winning just one of their first six fixtures.
The turning point came in September last year when, in their seventh match, Bolivia fielded an ineligible player and a 2-0 loss was turned into a 3-0 victory by a tribunal.
The decision sparked a run of form that lifted the Andean nation up to fifth place in the South American qualifying table, which helped them secure a play-off spot against the Kiwis.
Yesterday's win helped Peru extend their unbeaten run to 10 games, the longest they have had in 75 years.
Gareca will hope the run can continue and that in Russia, he can finally show the world what they were missing. - REUTERS