Friday 17 November 2017, 20:04

Peru’s Little Seal caps his comeback in style

  • Jefferson Farfan scored Peru’s opener in the 2-0 play-off win over New Zealand

  • Forward was recalled to the national team after 17 months out of the frame

  • “The future’s even brighter,” he said after the defeat of the All Whites

“I prepared so much for this match and my dream’s still alive,” said Jefferson Farfan in the lead-up to the second leg of Peru’s intercontinental play-off with New Zealand. With a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ at stake, the 33-year-old forward knew it was his last chance to make the world finals.

Though Farfan had spent nearly a year and a half out of the national team set-up altogether, he was the only member of Peru’s so-called “Fantastic Four” (the others being Paolo Guerrero, Claudio Pizarro and Juan Manuel Vargas) who was on the pitch for the most important match of his generation, one that would take Peru back to the World Cup after a 36-year absence.

Farfan grabbed his chance with both hands, driving the New Zealand defence to distraction with his darting runs and giving his side the lead with a fierce drive that had Lima’s Estadio Nacional rocking. Though there were still 62 minutes left on the clock, the pressure of the occasion was such that Farfan and the massed ranks of Peru fans greeted the goal as if it were an injury-time winner.

“We had no option but to win,” said a more relaxed Farfan after the dust had settled. “The team handled the tension of the situation really well. We were really uptight because it was a final but we were totally focused on the job and things worked out well.”

Known as La Foquita ('The Little Seal'), the goalscorer greeted the final whistle with tears, both for Peru’s long-awaited return to the world finals and for his close friend, Paolo Guerrero. He dedicated his goal to the absent striker by showing his No9 jersey to the world.

“This is for my mate, with all my love and affection and all my heart. Paolo, this is for you. I promised you,” an emotional Farfan had said on the pitch, paying the warmest of tributes to Guerrero. The Flamengo striker missed the play-off on account of his provisional suspension for testing positive for a banned substance following the draw with Argentina on the penultimate matchday of the South American qualifiers.

(“We did it, we’re going to the WORLD CUP!!!! Come on Peru DAMN IT”)

Out of the darkness Farfan and his fellow 'Fantastic Four' members earned their nickname in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014, yet with he, Pizarro and Vargas having fallen out of favour with coach Ricardo Gareca earlier in the campaign, Guerrero was left to play a virtual lone hand in Peru’s Russia 2018 qualification campaign. That made his absence from the play-offs all the more painful.

Farfan was dropped along with Pizarro and Vargas after the home draw with Venezuela in March 2016. They were dark days for La Foquita, who left Schalke 04 to play in the United Arab Emirates before finding himself without a team that October. He was back in action again in January this year, when he signed for Lokomotiv Moscow.

“What he needs to do if he wants to get his Peru place back is play, and play regularly,” said Gareca in July. “And not just to come back, but to get a settled place in the side and get plenty of playing time.” Though the Argentinian coach did not rule out recalls for Pizarro and Vargas, they have remained out of the picture. As for Farfan, Peru’s all-time leading scorer in the South American qualifiers with 15 goals, he did get the call.

The forward was welcomed back in August, for the matches against Bolivia and Ecuador. “Farfan knew that if he wanted to return, he had to comply with the national team’s new rules,” said Peruvian Football Association (FPF) chief Juan Carlos Oblitas.

After playing for just 160 minutes in four matches, Farfan returned to the starting line-up for the play-off, in place of the suspended Guerrero. The front man had a shot cleared off the line in Wellington but capped his comeback with that all-important strike in Lima.

“This is for the Peruvian people, who’ve suffered so much for so many years,” said Farfan as a new era dawned in Peru. “The future’s even brighter. This is a national team that has its feet on the ground and means business.”