Argentina and Peru lock horns once more on Thursday evening in World Cup qualification and while the history books don’t make particular pleasant reading for Los Incas, it isn’t the first time that a place at the greatest tournament on earth is at stake. With the two sides locked on 24 points in fourth and fifth respectively, this latest encounter is effectively a decider, a winner-takes-all clash and it hasn’t always been in Argentina’s favour.
However poor Argentina have been during this qualifying period, however not yet accustomed to Jorge Sampaoli’s new system and however good Peru’s recent form has been, there is no denying that the Rojiblancos are underdogs on Thursday.
The last time Peru beat Argentina in any competition was at the 1997 Copa América in Bolivia and they have never won a World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires.
From their 50 previous meetings, Argentina have won 32; Peru only five and so the historical advantage all leans heavily in one direction.
However, since drawing 2-2 earlier in the campaign in Lima the fortunes of both teams have gone in opposite directions.
While Argentina have replaced coaches and continue to flounder, Peru have rattled off three wins and a draw since losing to Brazil in round twelve. A qualification that had looked almost over now has Ricardo Gareca’s side on the verge of a historic place at the World Cup.
Thursday’s winners would, and possibly could, book their spot depending on results and although Argentina must go all out for the win ahead of an away trip to Ecuador; Peru may take a point before hosting Colombia and for that, there is a precedent.
Argentina 2 – 2 Peru – 31 August 1969 – La Bombonera
Argentina’s decision to move Thursday’s game away from the Monumental to Boca Juniors’ home, La Bombonera, is one that is supposed to generate the type of atmosphere that will see La Albiceleste flourish but when these sides last met in the iconic stadium, it was one of Argentina’s darkest moments and the beginning of a golden age for Peru.
In 1969, Argentina hosted Peru and needed a victory after suffering a 1-0 defeat in Lima. Under enormous pressure, Argentina twice fell behind in the closing stages thanks to goals by Oswaldo Ramírez and although José Rafael Albrecht and Alberto Rendo cancelled out the lead on the each occasion, La Albiceleste couldn’t muster a winner.
The result meant Argentina failed to qualify for the 1970 World Cup, the only time they have failed to qualify to date, and for Peru it was a launchpad to a era of great success, which not only yielded three World Cup appearances but the Copa America title in 1975.
A share of the points tomorrow and a Chile victory could see Argentina drop to sixth, missing out even on the playoff and would still leave Peru with work to do. The Rojiblanco would return to Lima seeing the definite positive of such a result; Argentina would go into meltdown.
Argentina 2 – 2 Peru – 30 June 1985 – El Monumental
Think back to Argentina’s World Cup triumph in 1986 and Diego Maradona’s iconic brace against England or Jorge Burruchaga’s decisive goal to beat West Germany in the final spring to mind. Few would recall the contribution of current Peru manager Ricardo Gareca given that Carlos Bilardo didn’t even select the striker for his squad in México and yet almost exactly a year before Maradona lifted the World Cup trophy, it was Gareca’s late goal against Peru that earned La Albiceleste a place at the tournament.
On Thursday evening in La Bombonera, Gareca will be in the home side’s dugout hoping to orchestrate an upset over his home nation but in 1985 the then 27-year-old broke Peruvian hearts in the Estadio Monumental. Having not been to a World Cup since, there is an opportunity for the Argentinian to make amends on Thursday.
Argentina needed at least a point from their final World Cup qualifying match at home to Peru having lost a week earlier in Lima. Los Incas arrived in Buenos Aires knowing that a win would take top spot and send them to México in place of their hosts.
Pedro Pasculli made that appear doubtful when he put Argentina in front after 12 minutes but two first half goals from José Velásquez and Gerónimo Barbadillo stunned the Monumental.
Time was running out for Bilardo’s side but with nine minutes remaining Daniel Passarella struck the inside of the post with a volley and Bauza followed it in to poke the ball over the goal line.
The 2-2 draw sent Argentina to México as group winners and left Peru in a playoff with Colombia, Chile and Paraguay – ultimately won by Los Guaraníes.
Gareca missed out on a place in Bilardo’s final squad a year later but later admitted, “When the qualifying round for 1986 finished the truth was that I wasn’t at a very good level and lost my place under Bilardo.”
El Tigre has enjoyed a successful management career primarily with Vélez Sarsfield but 32 years on from that goal, Gareca is plotting Argentina’s downfall.
Argentina 2 – 1 Peru – 11 October 2009 – El Monumental
With Argentina’s hero of 1986, Diego Maradona now in charge, La Albiceleste welcomed Peru to the Monumental in virtually the same situation as this week. For all of Diego’s undeniable genius on the pitch, his managerial career has been one of chaos and an Argentina side that had failed to find any consistency throughout qualification came into the penultimate fixture in need of a result.
When Pablo Aimar slipped in Gonzalo Higuaín for the opening goal shortly after half time the relief was palpable. The rain was hammering down in Buenos Aires and Hernán Rengifo’s 89th minute header appeared to be washing Argentina’s hopes of the World Cup down the drain.
Boca Juniors centre forward Martín Palermo was one of a number of players to benefit from Diego Maradona’s varied selection policy and on that historic night in the Monumental, El Titán repaid that faith. With the penalty box packed from a corner deep into stoppage time, the ball was fired across goal and Palermo was on hand to stab the ball into net at the back post, sending the entire stadium and Maradona into rapture.
Thursday evening will be the fourth chapter in this series and there is no margin for error for Jorge Sampaoli. Will Peru celebrate a famous victory and leave Argentina hanging by a thread or will Lionel Messi inspire La Albiceleste to another win?
Anything is possible in La Bombonera and the stage is now set for another historic night of South American World Cup qualification.