Peru could be the surprise team of the World Cup with Paolo Guerrero back
Peru has become a darling of the 2018 World Cup since it sealed its berth with a 2-0 win in a qualifying playoff against New Zealand. Who wouldn’t want to jump on the bandwagon of a team that hasn’t lost since 2016?
Now, with star striker and captain Paolo Guerrero officially back on the roster after an arduous legal process involving a pot of tea, the Swiss Supreme Court and a letter from Hugo Lloris, it feels as though Peru will enter Russia as hot as any team in the field. In fact, a quarterfinal berth looks well within the realm of possibility.
To examine Peru’s chances of making a run, we are going to start with the Elo ratings, a metric originally devised for chess by Arpad Elo that has since been applied to international soccer. It is calculated by weighting the importance of each match, the result of the match, and the win expectancy of the subject team. Peru is 10th in the Elo ratings with a score of 1,916. For reference, every World Cup team sits somewhere between 2,136 and 1,592. Peru’s score is good enough to rank second in Group C, behind France but well in front of Denmark and Australia.
Plus, Peru has had the highest one-year rating increase of any team in the Elo top 10, up 68 points and seven rankings spots.
In each of the last four World Cups, the team in the Elo top 10 with the highest points increase leading into the tournament — the Netherlands in 2014, Germany in 2010, Italy in 2006, and Brazil in 2002 — has made it to the semifinals or gone on to win the entire thing.
Peru will need a couple of things to fall into place to continue that trend.
First, it will need solid contributions out from its central midfielders. Under Manager Ricardo Gareca, Peru has set up in a 4-2-3-1 with midfielders Renato Tapia and Yoshi Yotún directly in front of the back four.
Tapia made more than 20 appearances this past season for Feyenoord in the Eredivisie and was a key part of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units. Yotún, Tapia’s mpore attack-minded midfielder partner for Peru, is having an impressive season with Orlando City of Major League Soccer. Per American Soccer Analysis, he ranks fifth among all center midfielders in MLS with 2.5 expected goals (a stat that evaluates shot quality). If these two players can successfully shield the back line, while providing even a small boost to the attack, Peru will be a team to reckon with.
Peru’s second major need is simple: The front four of Guerrero, Christian Cueva, Edison Flores, and André Carrillo must score goals. At the last World Cup, the quarterfinalists scored a total of 55 goals in the group stage. Of those 55, 33 were scored by forwards. That averages out to 6.9 goals per team in the group stage, 4.1 of them scored by the forwards. With Guerrero back and the squad at full strength, Peru has an excellent chance of doing that, finishing in the top two in Group C and advancing in the knockout rounds.