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Watch: Solano proud of Peru’s performance at World Cup

  • Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

NOLBERTO SOLANO’s experience as assistant coach at Russia 2018 may have paved the way for a successful managerial career, especially if Peru’s post becomes vacant. While he is prepared for such opportunity, the former Newcastle United player spoke to Gianluca Lia about being close to a tactician like Ricardo Gareca and what it meant for his nation to be at the World Cup…

Being part of Peru’s first World Cup expedition in 36 years meant the world for Nolberto Solano, who during the past week was in Malta as an ambassador of the Latin America’s branch of the Betsson Group.

‘Nobby’ represented Los Incas 95 times, including four appearances at the 2004 Copa America where he also scored two goals, against Venezuela and Colombia in the group stages.

However, he never managed to help his team qualify to a World Cup tournament as a player much to the criticism surrounding the Peruvian environment throughout the years.

Yet, Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca handed him the opportunity to be in the world’s biggest tournament when he offered him the chance to join his technical staff.

“I am humbled to have had the opportunity to be part of Gareca’s technical staff,” Solano said to Times of Malta.

“He is a very professional coach, very sensible and prioritises a lot the human contact, therefore it was easy for him to generate confidence in the squad.

“Throughout the past campaigns, the team had a lot of negative hype around him, mostly generated by the public and hyped by the media and that did not help our national team to move forward.

“However, Gareca was very clever in handling this type of situation and convinced the players that their characteristics can take Peru to the Russia tournament.”

Peru’s journey to the World Cup looked already over after just two qualifiers after losing to Colombia and Chile.

By Match Day Seven, Peru had won one, drawn one and lost five.

However, after their dismal start, Los Incas went on to just lose twice in the next 10 games.

In the final game of the qualifiers, Copa America winners Chile fell to Brazil and Paolo Guerrero’s goal earned Peru a memorable 1-1 draw against Colombia but most importantly, earned the ticket for Russia 2018 at the expense of Chile.

“Gareca did a splendid job in steering the team through a tricky qualification campaign as the South America section is one of the toughest given the strength of our opponents,” Solando underlined.

The Peru FA has offered the 60-year old manager a new contract, but Gareca is yet to make up his mind about his future, especially after he was listed as one of the potential replacements of Jorge Sampaoli at the helm of Argentina.

“I really hope that he stays as coach of Peru because he has given a lot to this team and he has still more to give. He knows the players and the environment,” the former Peru international said.

“He brought a different type of mentality in our squad and that has helped our team to raise the level of play.”

If Gareca does not renew his stay at Peru’s post, the Peru FA is thinking about appointing Solano himself as the new manager, and the former Newcastle United player is not hiding from such a responsibility.

“I am in the waiting position for now, because I am waiting for the outcome of the Gareca situation with the FA,” Solano explained.

“If I get offered the Peru job, it would be very tempting because it would be a huge experience for me, even though it will be difficult because after Gareca managed the team into the World Cup, the expectations will be higher on the team now.”

‘Memorable event’

In Russia, Peru finished third in Group C after losing to Denmark and tournament winners France 1-0 and clinching a 2-0 over Australia in the final game.

However, Solano is pleased with what Peru showed on the field and he is relishing the opportunity for his nation to be in such a tournament in four years.

“We look forward to be part of a World Cup again, because it is always a memorable event to be part of,” ‘Nobby’ said.

“Although we did not qualify from the group, we are proud with what we produced and this will give us a boost for future competitions.”

Asked about France’s success, Solano explained that Les Bleus were among the candidates to win this tournament and although they were growing game by game, their exceptional qualities ultimately surfaced on the field at the right moment.

Peru’s preparations ahead of the World Cup were dealt a heavy blow after skipper Guerrero, all-time goal scorer of Los Incas, was initially banned for a year in 2017 by FIFA after testing positive for cocaine and metabolite benzoylecgonine after drinking contaminated coca tea.

Afterwards, FIFA decided to reduce the ban to six months meaning he would be illegible.

Yet, in May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport extended his ban to 14 months as they stated that he did not intend to enhance his performance but he was at fault. Nonetheless.

in a remarkable turnaround, Guerrero was granted a stay of execution by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland.

The former Bayern Munich forward managed to list his name on the score sheet as well, after scoring in the 2-0 win over the Socceroos.

“Being without our captain was difficult for our team, because while we had to prepare without him, we were still being updated on the possible outcomes,” Solano explained.

“The team needed to work without him and it was until the last moment that we got the news that Guerrero could feature in Russia.

“After six months of inactivity, it was not easy for Guerrero to recover his match fitness as quickly as possible and that is why he did not feature instantly in the opening game, because we wanted to handle him with care.

“Nonetheless, I am glad that he could take part in the World Cup and I am sure that he is pleased to have had the opportunity to captain his nation on the biggest stage of all.”

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