• Argentine’s strike broke Peruvian hearts in Mexico 1986 qualifying
  • After taking charge in 2015, he has guided Peru to first World Cup in 36 years
  • Check out our interactive profile of Los Incas

Football is a funny game. Players can be hailed as heroes in the blink of an eye if they score a crucial goal, but heroes can just as quickly become villains if they change teams. And vice versa.

Argentinian Ricardo Gareca has experienced just such a role reversal. When he was installed as coach of the Peruvian national team, most local fans took a dim view of his appointment. Indeed, to many, he was considered persona non grata. After all, he was the man whose goal for La Albiceleste had quashed Peru’s dreams of reaching the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™.

But the former forward has won over the naysayers by inspiring a heroic feat, guiding Los Incas back to the global extravaganza after a long exodus. Now he is adored by those who once held a grudge against him.

FIFA.com caught up with the 59-year-old to discuss this turnaround and his excitement ahead of Russia 2018.

On the journey from villain to hero
“I was constantly reminded of that goal as soon as I arrived in Peru, but I never saw it as something I had to make up for. I just did what I had to do as an Argentina player; it was nothing personal. But anyway, we’re through to the World Cup now, so nobody is saying stuff about me owing them any more! I’m being shown unconditional support and a lot of love.”

On the play-off victory over New Zealand
“It was very intense. We knew we had the chance to be the last nation to qualify. We’d prepared for the occasion. It was a long process and we had to seize the opportunity. The Peruvian Football Federation played a fundamental role. They chartered a plane for after the first leg in New Zealand. That allowed us to return to Lima immediately, re-acclimatise and get some important rest.”

On the historic celebrations
“There’s a sense of gratitude throughout the country. The locals are very affectionate and demonstrative. We’ve been showered with affection. Not qualifying would’ve been a big blow. Needless to say, anticipation is rife. People are going to be surprised by how many Peruvians make the trip to Russia.”

On the keys to their success
“The most important thing is the way every player has responded. It’s a team not of stars, but rather of players who have earned their stripes, including some really young heads who maybe aren’t that well known but who’ve been really important. I’d highlight the fact that Peruvian footballers are technically sound, [physically] strong and adaptable. The Peruvian league is played in all possible conditions: at altitude, in hot temperatures and on both natural and artificial pitches. That ability to adapt will undoubtedly work in our favour in Russia.”

On Peru’s Russia 2018 draw, which pitted them against France, Australia and Denmark
“The draw wasn’t really the be-all and end-all to me. By qualifying, all the teams involved have demonstrated that they’re among the world’s best, so we’ve got to be fully prepared in order to hit the ground running. For this team taking the initiative and imposing ourselves is key. I want us to boss matches, whoever and wherever we’re playing. And, leaving aside any tactical considerations, we intend to give our all to bring our fans joy, because they deserve it.”


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