Next summer’s big tournament in Brazil may still be twelve
months away, but for some teams the World Cup is the first thing on their mind,
with a host of vital qualifiers taking place this weekend. One of those teams
is Peru, whose smart white and red-sash Umbro kits are an iconic part of world
football. They take on Ecuador tonight in a game which could have a massive
impact on their chances of qualifying for Brazil next year.
Ahead of the game tonight and another vital game against Colombia next week, we spoke to one of the most important players in the Peru squad about the importance of these games. Juan Vargas, known as El Loco to fellow players and fans, is one of the most experienced players in the Peru squad, and will have an important part to play in these vital fixtures.
Check out the video above or read the text below to hear what El Loco had to say about his career, the support of the Peruvian fans and what he thinks of that nickname….
What is your favourite position to play in?
‘I think as a left forward, because when I started playing closer to the opposition area I had more opportunities to score. I think that you try to adapt to what is asked of you by the coach, but personally I would always like to play as a forward because in that way I could always be closer to the opponent’s area.’
How has playing in different leagues helped you as a player?
‘I play in the Italian league, but before that I played in Argentina, and there they focus on tactics a lot and the positions on the field, so I learned the importance of that and how best to position yourself on the pitch.’
How can playing international football help you as a player?
‘I think that ever since I have played for the national team, I have gained a lot of international experience playing against teams from different countries, and at the same time having learnt from older teammates that are no longer playing. I think that for me, the team we have now, alongside the success we have had in the Copa America, is pretty confident that we can reach the World Cup.’
What nickname describes the Peruvian team best?
‘I think that because of tradition and cultural legacy we are known as ‘Los Incaicos’, because of the Inca Empire and all that stuff, and I think that when we play abroad we are known as that. But here in Peru at a national level we are ‘La Blanquirroja’, and I think both are good for us.’
How does it feel to wear the Peru shirt and represent your country?
‘It is something very important, I think that putting on our shirt and being part of our national team is very important for each player because twenty-two players come together, but unfortunately only eleven get to play. The other eleven just have to wait for their chance to play. I think that representing your country abroad is really important too.’
What has been your proudest moment playing for the national team?
‘I think that my best time with the national team was what happened in the Copa America in 2011, the fact that we finished third after so many years without success I think was something really important. Now I am looking forward to what is coming up next, which is the World Cup, and we all hope that we will be there.’
How important is the backing of the Peru fans in big matches?
‘I think that it is very important because they have wanted to see us in a World Cup tournament for more than twenty-three or twenty-four years, it has been a long time without going to the World Cup, and I think that this generation of players can make it. Let’s hope so because there are still some games to be played, and we are hoping to give our best to make it to the World Cup.’
What would it mean to you to qualify for the World Cup?
‘Well, because of my age – I am already twenty-nine – I am left with these qualifying games and maybe the next ones, but for many players that play for the national team, there is a real bitter taste left in the mouth when they do not qualify, so I want to take advantage of this time to make it to the World Cup.’
How important is this game to the team?
‘It is so important because it is a game that we cannot lose, it is a game that is really important to win at home with our public because we would be closer to the objective we are reaching for.’
What’s it like as a player to walk out at the Estadio Nacional?
‘Based on the experience of playing away from home, makes me treasure the experience of playing for my people and seeing my people, it is so important for me. As soon as I listen to the national anthem I get goosebumps, just to feel the national support and to see all those people coming to the stadium to cheer you on because they want their team to win.’