Santiago: A new generation of Peruvian soccer players can benefit from the country’s economic progress this century to end decades of underachievement, according to coach Pablo Bengoechea.
Peru have failed to reach the World Cup finals since 1982 and have not won the Copa America since 1975, something Uruguayan Bengoechea blames on the country’s social unrest and economic woes in the latter years of the 20th century.
“I’m very optimistic about Peru’s future, I see kids growing and that’s what is important, for the generations to grow and be good,” Bengoechea told Reuters in Santiago.
“In Peru, from the 1990s onwards life has been good, kids grow with the possibility of good nourishment, good education, and all that helps develop them (as players),” he said in an interview in the Chilean capital where the draw for the Copa America was held on Monday.
“Peru has paid a price for all the country went through in the 1980s or end of the 70s... The kids who grew up facing huge difficulties are those who have been playing in the national team and you pay for that in sporting terms.”
Peru was governed in the 1970s by two military regimes and in the subsequent years the country was plunged into violence fanned by extreme leftwing groups like Shining Path who wanted to install a new state through armed combat.
More than 50,000 people died in the fighting in the 1980s and by the end of the decade Peru’s economy was suffering from a lack of trade and hyperinflation, only opening up to the world market in the 90s and recovering its growth.
“Let’s hope greater numbers of players will emerge in Peru, we’re very happy with those coming through from the junior ranks and who are getting chances at national team level,” Bengoechea said.
The Copa America in Chile from June 11-July 4, 2015 is Peru’s next big challenge where they will look to at least equal their surprise third place in Argentina four years ago when striker Paolo Guerrero was crowned top scorer.
“There are kids who have been (in the squad) since then, some who are mature and others who are only now reaching their potential and were very young in the Copa.
“That’s a good memory that will be on our minds as the tournament approaches but we must always aim to improve,” said Bengoechea, who was assistant to compatriot Sergio Markarian at the time.
“The Copa America in a very special tournament, it’s like a World Cup, it’s played in 20 days and you have to get there in good shape. You have to make the most of the FIFA dates in March to reach conclusions (about the team),” added the 49-year-old, who won the tournament playing for Uruguay in 1987 and 1995.
Peru, who have been drawn in a tough Group C with Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, will play warm-up friendlies against Chile and the Venezuelans in March.
Bengoechea, who was a creative midfielder with top Uruguayan club Penarol, took charge of Peru early this year after Markarian resigned following his failure to steer them to the World Cup in Brazil and he has a contract until the Copa.
He said he hoped the Chile tournament would be one of the best after the fine showing by Latin American teams at this year`s World Cup.
“We’ve just had a World Cup in which the countries of South America and Mexico have had great performances. From what we can see now, everyone wants their stars with them.
“There have been Copa Americas to which the teams did not take all their best players. One presumes this will be a very exciting Copa America. Those who shone at the World Cup will want to carry on the same and those of us who weren’t there will want to grow sports wise,” Bengoechea said.
He hopes to be able to count on one of Peru’s leading players, Schalke 04 striker Jefferson Farfan, who is recovering from a knee injury that has kept him sidelined for months.
“We believe that by January he will be playing again," said Bengoechea. "It’s good news for Peru, he’s a very important player for the national team. Let’s hope he ends his recovery well.”