One of the most shocking news was the elimination of Italy, which will miss its first World Cup since 1958. As the United States, The Netherlands and Chile, the Italians will be no-shows at Russia 2018. In the other side, after knocking out Italy, Sweden comes back to the main tournament after missing the last two editions. Denmark also qualified with a terrific comeback win in Ireland. Peru joined the group as well, becoming the last nation to qualify for the World Cup ending a 36-year drought.
After competing in the first World Cup in 1930, the Peruvians became one of the top South American squads in the seventies, remaining at the summit of the continent and taking place in three World Cups in 12 years (1970, 1978 and 1982). In all of them Peru played great games but good luck was elusive and the team could not reach the semifinals. In all the tournaments the Peruvians had tough draws and had to face the countries that ended up finishing in first and third place.
In Mexico 1970, despite having tough Germany in the group, Peru made it to the quarterfinals thanks to a spectacular come-from-behind win, 3-2, over Bulgaria.
Brazil eliminated them in the knockout round. In 1978, the Peruvians led their group ahead of the Dutch, but lost in the second phase to Brazil and host Argentina, who claimed the title. In 1982, after being close to knock out Italy, who moved on to became champion, Peru lost to Poland and did not pass the group stage.
Those teams included huge stars who became soccer legends like forward Hugo “Cholo” Sotil, who played for FC Barcelona along Johan Cruyff and Teófilo Cubillas, who recorded five goals in the 1970 tournament and five more in 1978. His 10 goals place Cubillas eighth in World Cup all-time scoring.
Anyway after achieving all this success, Peruvian soccer failed in the darkness of South America and many countries passed them in the continent rankings including Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador and even Bolivia. It is true South America is the toughest region to earn a World Cup spot, but constant absences in the planet’s top tournament translated into a huge sporting crisis for Peru.
Russia 2018 has become the turning point for Peruvian soccer. Like quality racing horses, Peru’s national team left the best for the final part of the qualifying tournament. After earning only four points (four defeats) in the first six games, the Peruvians collected 11 (three wins) in the final five, including key draws at Argentina and against Colombia in Lima. This was enough to get a wild card bid to face New Zealand in a home-and-away final round for a World Cup berth.
Things were not easy either after tying 0-0 in the opening game in the Oceanic continent. But destiny was written in Peru’s favor this time. At home with the whole nation pushing for it, the Peruvians defeated the New Zealanders, 2-0, thanks to goals by veteran winger Jefferson Farfán and defender Christian Ramos to earn the last spot for Russia 2018. The country faces the World Cup with hope in the squad coached by Argentinean Ricardo Gareca, the man who was able to get Peruvian soccer three decades later back to the place it belongs.