Given the fact that there are 250,000 Peruvians living in Florida and Puerto Rico, Friday's friendly vs. Croatia felt like a home fixture for Peru, but it was the performance on the pitch in front of the Peru-heavy crowd of 46,893 that mattered to manager Ricardo Gareca. It was one that gave Peru a 2-0 victory and its first win against a UEFA team in 19 years.
Sure, it was only a friendly, but when you're a nation entering the World Cup for the first time since 1982, the international break matters, because it's an opportunity for a young, inexperienced squad to test itself against elite quality.
“We will face teams filled with first-level players,” Gareca said last week. “But we have first-level players, too.”
His words were supported by great performances, especially that of Renato Tapia. The smart defensive midfielder, who often plays as a center back for Feyenoord, disrupted most of Croatia's midfield–especially Ivan Rakitic, who struggled to find any rhythm against Peru.
On Tuesday, Peru faces Iceland at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey with the hope of another strong performance. Iceland, without Gylfi Sigurdsson, lost 3-0 to Mexico last Friday, so head coach Heimir Hallgrímsson will be looking for a stronger performance on Tuesday.
The score, of course, is irrelevant, but for Peru what does matter is the continuation of squad cohesion and development - and more importantly, staying healthy.
Here are three thoughts from what we've seen so far and what to expect against Iceland.
A goalkeeping competition?
The incumbent No. 1 and hero of World Cup qualifying, Pedro Gallese, is currently injured and unavailable for this international break. His replacement this window, the 26-year-old Carlos Caceda, is making a strong case for himself. Against Croatia, Caceda seemed invincible, pulling off some impressive saves and displaying a commanding presence between the sticks. What seemed even more comforting was his composure during set pieces, which is a notable for a team that will have to deal with nations that have a strong aerial presence at the World Cup in France, Denmark and Australia. Gallese should remain as the starter, but it's comforting to know there is a strong backup waiting in the stands.
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The kids are all right
The hope, against Iceland, is that Gareca gives a few minutes for a talented, albeit inexperienced bunch on his bench. The popular Cristian Benavente did see close to 25 minutes against Croatia, but his role changed during the game as Yoshimar Yotun's red card in the 75th minute forced the team to play more defensively. Hopefully, Benavente will be able to show his offensive skills on Tuesday and prove his worth. Another hopeful is Beto da Silva, who, at 21, is building a strong resume despite the lack of consistency at one club, He is, however, a talented attacker, who loves to cut inside from the left-hand side. Perhaps Edison Flores gets a rest on Tuesday, which would open up minutes for da Silva.
Possession vs. the press
Peru was well organized against Croatia, but there were times when it struggled to control the ball, especially in the first half. The hope is that against Iceland, a team that will most likely press often, the Blanquirroja will stay calm and work on keeping the ball. It's not in Peru's DNA to play one system, in fact it's what makes Gareca such a smart, proficient manager. But for the purpose of this friendly, it would be great to see Peru work on the ground game, especially at a time when Paolo Guerrero–a player that demands so much attention in the air–is not around.