Peru must be wary of Denmark star Christian Eriksen in their Group C opener but have the players to match the Tottenham star, according to head coach Ricardo Gareca. Anticipation is high among Peru's large and vibrant travelling band of fans ahead of the South American country's first World Cup game since 1982, but they face a tough test against the Eriksen-inspired Danes at Saransk's Mordovia Arena on Saturday.
Long established as one of the Premier League's finest creative talents, the 26-year-old scored 11 times in 12 matches over the course of qualification – crowned by a hat-trick in the 5-1 play-off demolition of the Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
"Eriksen is obviously a key player, he is very well known. We have to be able to face players like him," Gareca told a pre-match news conference. "But we also have players of that level. While he is not the only player we have to concentrate on, I think facing players like him will allow us to grow and learn."
Watch out for Guerrero
One of the players who Peru will look to as a counter to Eriksen's threat is their all-time record goalscorer Paolo Guerrero, who was only cleared to play at the tournament at the end of last month. A Swiss tribunal provisionally suspended the 34-year-old Flamengo striker's 14-month ban from football for a failed drugs test while it considers his appeal against the sanction imposed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Guerrero was given an initial 12-month ban after testing positive for benzoylecgonine, although he has staunchly protested his innocence and attributed the presence of the cocaine metabolite in his sample to contaminated herbal tea. FIFA agreed to halve the suspension, while CAS reinforced the punishment on appeal before the final pre-World Cup twist.
"Paolo is very, very fit. Whatever happened before I think now he is training at a very high level and he really is ready to play," said Gareca, who saw his star forward receive backing during his appeal from France's Hugo Lloris, Australia's Mile Jedinak and Denmark's Simon Kjaer – the three captains of Peru's Group C rivals.
"We appreciate the support for Paolo Guerrero and for our whole team. I think this shows great solidarity," he added. "This has been positive for Guerrero but, also, I believe that we should think about the situation in general. Football players can only play for so many years and sometimes they need support for their health and wellbeing. There are certain bodies who are responsible for that and they will have to reconsider [their policies]."