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Paolo Guerrero Jersey
This article is part of the Guardian’s 2018 World Cup Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who have qualified for Russia. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.
“My son is a warrior, I congratulate him and congratulate all those who have helped him,” said a delighted Petronila Gonzales, also known as ‘Doña Peta’. “When Paolo proposes something, he does it.”
In the cloudiest days of the Peruvian team, Paolo Guerrero – whose surname actually means ‘warrrior’ – has always told us that the goal is for everyone. His efficiency and lethal instinct in the penalty area have been a beacon of light in years of darkness for football in the country.
The devotion that he generates in the white-red fans is the consequence of his dedication and leadership – hence the joyous reaction from everybody, and not just his mother – when the news came through that he will be at the World Cup after a Swiss supreme court suspended his doping ban.
The reason is that Guerrero has always been present in situations of real emergency.
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It last happened on 10 October, 2017 against Colombia in Lima. Only 15 minutes remained, with Peru’s chances of reaching the World Cup for the first time since 1982 hanging by a thread as they trailed 1-0. The hosts were awarded an indirect free kick 25 yards out and Guerrero was the man to stand over the ball and curl it into the net, with goalkeeper David Ospina making the fatal mistake of attempting to save the ball as it came towards him.
In truth, each of his goals are now cause for celebration in Peru’s history books. With 32 accumulated for the national team, Guerrero is already the country’s all-time top scorer having overhauled the legendary Teofilo Cubillas in 2016. His indisputable quality in the opposition penalty area was key
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to the two third-place finishes at the Copa America in 2011 and 2015. On both occasions, he finished as top scorer at the tournament ahead of the likes of Neymar and Lionel Messi.
But returning to the biggest stage at the World Cup has always been Peru’s dream ever since the exploits of Cubillas and co. The former Porto midfielder was in the side that reached the quarter-finals in Mexico in 1970 and also featured in 1978 and 1982. To return to those glories after so long away, the team needed a leader under the command of manager Ricardo Gareca and they have found it in Guerrero.
A player with such a competitive soul had to be trained in a country that is used to almost always winning at football. Guerrero was still just a teenager when he arrived at Bayern Munich in Germany but soon built his reputation as a predator under the watchful
eye of ‘Der Bomber’ Gerd Müller. He made his debut for Peru in 2004 against Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier and hasn’t looked back.
Since then, Guerrero has shown signs of dedication every time
he defended the colors of our country. He has even left his own blood on the pitch in a 2013 qualifier against Uruguay. With his head heavily bandaged after a particularly robust challenge, he played on until the end but could not prevent his side from slipping out of the competition.
Five years on and he is now set to finally achieve his dream, although who is to say this is his last chance? At 34, the Flamengo player has balanced his experience with a team whose average age is some 10 years younger. “His physical performance will still reach to give us some more years of happiness,” said the sports director of the Peruvian Football Federation, Juan Carlos Oblitas last year.
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