Gareca, Peru waiting on Guerrero as World Cup prep continues

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NOTE: This has been translated from an original piece on ESPN Argentina.

Peru is experiencing a great moment. The national team is returning to the World Cup after a 36-year absence -- their last World Cup was Spain, 1982 -- and hopes are growing for a good performance. Ricardo Gareca, the Argentine coach who managed this feat, is aiming to survive a tough group in which France are the favorites.

The great news for Peru is that they'll be able to count on Paolo Guerrero, the key player and mentor of the squad, who is currently suspended for failing a doping test. The goalscorer's punishment has been reduced and he'll be able to play again as of May 3. He'll barely be ready for Russia but remains a key player for Gareca. That's why the coach hopes to find Guerrero in excellent shape after a long period of inactivity once the ban is lifted.

The manager knows he can count on the group that secured their ticket to Russia but he'll be looking for options during upcoming friendlies. That's why goalkeeper Alejandro Duarte, midfielder Cristian Benavente and forward Roberto Siucho have been called up. Also, Claudio Pizarro could be present. Despite his age, the experienced 39-year-old forward has had an excellent season for Koln in Germany and Gareca has already said that they'll be monitoring him closely.

Peruvian soccer is known for its prominent technique, which is something Gareca expects from all his players. Over time, they've moved away from simply aiming long balls at Guerrero, their main weapon of attack, and started working on short passes and strong ball-playing skills.

Peru's backbone is not in peak condition: goalkeeper Pedro Gallese is recovering from knee surgery (he'll be fit in time for the World Cup) and Guerrero, as we have already mentioned, is on the waiting list. On the other hand, the manager can count on the experienced Alberto Rodriguez at center-back, with the multi-dimensional Yoshimar Yotun at midfield and Jefferson Farfan's experience helping in the attacking third.

They will play the first 2018 friendlies in the U.S., facing Croatia on March 23 and Iceland on March 27. Later they'll host Scotland in Lima on May 29 and in June they'll play against Arabia and Sweden, their final tune-up matches before the World Cup.