Peru’s Guerrero impresses coach for decider against France

SARANSK, Russia (AP) Striker Paolo Guerrero played only for 30 minutes in Peru’s 1-0 opening World Cup loss to Denmark, but his impressive form after a long doping ban already indicates he’ll likely play a bigger role in his country’s next match against France.

Coach Ricardo Gareca kept Guerrero on the bench at the start of the game in Saransk, which upset tens of thousands of fans who showed up at the 44,000-seater Mordovia Arena. He waited an hour, until after Peru had wasted several opportunities – including one from the penalty spot – to send on the team’s all-time leading scorer.

A Guerrero header two minutes later forced Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel into a save. Three minutes later the 34-year-old Guerrero, who played only a handful of games this year, almost equalized for Peru with a clever backheel kick.

Overall, his presence gave Peru more structure in attack and had the other benefit for his team of drawing Denmark’s defense, creating opportunities for Yoshimar Yotun in the middle.

”I saw him doing well. He adapted to the atmosphere of the game quickly,” Gareca said in his post-match news conference.

Peru faces France on Thursday in a potentially decisive match in Pool C, and that puts Guerrero right into the frame to start.

”What we need now is to analyze the match against France and pick the best settings,” Gareca said. ”We need to digest this defeat and deal with France as quickly as possible.”

Veteran Peru player Jefferson Farfan, who played up front on Saturday, suggested his close friend deserved to be in the starting lineup for the next game.

”We have to think of France, forget this match and start from scratch,” Farfan said. ”Guerrero once more proved he is key for this group of players.”

Guererro was Peru’s top goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifying, netting five in the campaign. But he has played few games since FIFA’s initial suspension in November.

He blamed his doping test failure on a tainted cup of tea at a Lima hotel.

The veteran striker didn’t have any qualms about being kept on the bench for Peru’s first match, saying he ”respects the decision of the professor.”

”Whenever he needs me, I will be ready. The next match will be tough, but we have the means to win it,” Guererro said.

The victory gave Denmark a crucial advantage over Peru in Group C after France edged Australia 2-1 earlier in the day.