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Peru’s final match of 2018 ended with a 3-2 loss to Costa Rica. Despite major improvements in the final third, the defence continues to be a lingering issue. That’s now 10 goals conceded since the World Cup, which has contributed to four defeats in six matches.
However, as we’ll get into later, this is a symptom of experimenting with new players and Ricardo Gareca should continue to test different players.
Here are three thoughts from Peru’s loss to Costa Rica.
Attack improves thanks to Benavente
The Ecuador match was arguably the most abysmal display from Peru’s attack under Ricardo Gareca. He clearly called for a reaction and received exactly that.
The key to this reignited attack was Cristian Benavente. Considering Benavente – born and raised in Spain – is not used to the altitude whatsoever, he deserves immense credit for this performance.
Costa Rica deployed their regular 3-4-3, which allowed them to sit back and absorb pressure when the situation presented itself. Thanks to Benavente’s intelligent movement off the ball, Peru didn’t struggle in this situation, which is normally the case.
Notice how Benavente drags centre-back Giancarlo Gonzalez out wide, thus stretching the Costa Rican defence.
He also recognized the right moments to drift to the wings. When Aldo Corzo had the freedom to bomb forward on the right, Benavente targeted that side. He ended up switching to the left in the second half once los Ticos targeted Corzo and freed up Miguel Trauco.
Benavente didn’t really have a set position. There were moments when he was a striker, a No. 10 and a secondary winger. But that freedom helped the Spanish-born forward thrive.
Andy Polo, Edison Flores and Yoshimar Yotún were also very solid in possession, but a special mention goes out to Benavente for capitalizing on Christian Cueva’s absence.
Peru finished the match with 17 shots (eight on target) and had a legitimate penalty shout in the 86th minute when Francisco Calvo pulled Jefferson Farfán in the box as he was trying to receive a cross. Realistically, la Bicolor could’ve finished this match with at least five goals.
Tuesday’s game was very reminiscent of the loss to Denmark. Plenty of chances, some beautiful attacking sequences, wasteful finishing and punished on three separate occasions. Costa Rica had seven attempts (four on target) and had three goals. Unfortunately, football can be cruel sometimes.
Is it time to give up on Ruidíaz?
In a word: No.
Sure, he missed another solid opportunity, but there were three defenders around Ruidíaz and he had a very tight angle to shoot. Paolo Guerrero had a similar chance versus France at the World Cup as well.
Lost in that missed opportunity was Ruidíaz’s role in the opening goal for Peru. No one mentioned the awareness and precision to pick out Corzo on the wing before he sent in the cross for Edison Flores.
Ruidíaz was also in a position to latch onto Corzo’s pass if Flores wasn’t in the vicinity of the cross.
It’s understandably frustrating when a player with Ruidíaz’s quality can’t get that goal. I genuinely ache when he doesn’t score because I know he can do it. However, he is very lucky that Guerrero is suspended, Farfán is 34 years old and there are no younger alternatives.
Gareca is reportedly considering Iván Bulos and Beto da Silva for the March squad, so perhaps that competition will be an extra incentive for Ruidíaz.
Defensive shape needs work
Aldo Corzo hadn’t started a match for Peru since the 0-0 draw against New Zealand last November. He only recently overcame a long-term injury at Universitario, so there was a risk in starting the 29-year-old. Miguel Trauco, who was culpable for the opening goal, wasn’t very assured defensively, either.
Trauco has to close down Jonathan McDonald in this area, and he clearly hasn’t learned because he was punished on a similar mistake in the Copa do Brasil semifinals.
Then there was Anderson Santamaría and Miguel Araujo at centre-back, who have played limited minutes together. With no solid full-back on either side of them, they had to cover too much ground.
But they weren’t aided by Pedro Aquino, who was overrun on a few occasions. Instead of closing down players, Aquino tried to outmuscle the Costa Rican player in possession. It was Joel Campbell for the first goal and Allan Cruz caused fits on a few counter-attacks as well.
This is where Renato Tapia is superior. Tapia knows where to position himself, how to win back possession cleanly and shut down the space. Aquino was far too eager to roam from his position, which cost Peru in the loss to France at the World Cup.
That doesn’t excuse Araujo, Santamaría and Corzo for ball-watching on the second goal, though. Corzo also should’ve been tracking the runner at the back post as well. Pedro Gallese wouldn’t have had to run to his post in order to cut down the angle as a result.
Gareca should persist with new players
These sort of mishaps will occur when a team experiments with new players, especially defenders.
A lack of chemistry means more mistakes will be committed, which usually leads to a higher amount of goals conceded.
Peru dealt with this in World Cup qualifying before the Copa América Centenario. They allowed 12 goals in six matches before Christian Ramos and Alberto Rodríguez formed a strong partnership.
Guess what? Peru only allowed 14 goals in the remaining 12 qualifiers.
This shouldn’t sway Ricardo Gareca from trying new players. There will be issues to iron out initially. But it’s imperative for a team to evolve and grow. Eventually Araujo, Santamaría, Aquino and others will be on the same wavelength and we’ll see minimal errors.
We also can’t underestimate the emotional and mental toll on the players this year. From qualifying for the World Cup, to the hectic summer schedule and the constant travel around the globe, the squad needs a rest. Maybe it will lead to a recharged Peruvian side in March.
For now, let’s hope Gareca keeps handing more starts to these players.