Driven by the pain of a decades-old wound, Ricardo Gareca has managed to take Peru all the way to the World Cup finals for the first time in 36 years.
But coach Gareca doesn’t plan to stop there, hoping the team can build on a groundswell of euphoria that greeted the 11th-hour court reprieve allowing his captain Paolo Guerrero to participate.
“I don’t know if we’re going to win the World Cup, I don’t know how we’ll perform, but what I can tell you is that we’re ready for the maximum effort,” the Argentine said.
In an interview with AFP, he said: “Our objective is to try to qualify in the group. Even if it’s difficult, we are going to try.”
He said he believes all Peru’s group matches — against France, Denmark and Australia — are winnable.
With his rock’n’roll hairstyle and zen demeanour, the Argentine, nicknamed ‘Tiger’ when he was a player, took over as Peru coach in 2015.
Although the team performed badly at first in qualification, he brought in new blood, picking young players from local clubs.
Peru eventually beat New Zealand in a two-legged play-off to earn a place in the finals for the first time since Spain in 1982.
Gareca brought in “security and a fluid game…Now Peruvian players believe in what they can do on the pitch,” said former international Percy Rojas, who predicts the team could cause an upset in Russia.
Gareca, 60, began his career as a player in 1978 with Boca Juniors and has been a midfielder, a goalkeeper and a striker. But as a coach, it’s the attack and the collective game that he focuses on.
He hopes to erase the painful memory of the biggest regret of his career: he was not called up by his country for the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 — won by Diego Maradona’s Argentina — despite his key role during the qualifiers.
He said he remembers “crying like a condemned man.”