Peruvian teams fall again in Libertadores qualifiers

By Mike Rice.

As the Copa Libertadores qualifiers continue, Peru’s representatives have sadly fallen once again in their attempts to reach the group stages.

2022 saw César Vallejo dominated by Paraguay’s Olimpia in the first round. Trujillo’s side struggled to create any form of attack despite registering more possession in both legs.

The Peruvians have scored just two goals in their first six games of the season, including the Copa Libertadores where they lost 3-0 on aggregate.

The Paraguayan team showed a more clinical attack and were much more threatening with the possession they had. In the first leg in Peru, Olimpia managed to win 1-0 with 19 shots, including five on target against César Vallejo’s nine shots on target with five on target.

As Olimpia hosted the second leg, they once again showed their vanguard and superiority. The hosts registered 33 shots with 11 on target against César Vallejo’s six shots on target including one on target.

In both games, César Vallejo recorded 61% possession, but there was no clear attacking identity. The Paraguayan side proved to be much better prepared. The three-time Copa Libertadores winners progressed without concern from the Peruvian challengers.

From César Vallejo’s perspective, they had lost key players from last season, including Christian Ramos, the Peru international centre-back who joined rivals Alianza Lima for the 2022 season.

Key striker Yorleys Mena also left last season on loan until July 2022 to the United Arab Emirates to represent Club Ajman. These two players were key to César Vallejo’s success last season, and the club’s recruitment was unable to replicate the impact Mena had particularly in the final third.

As Universitario, one of the best Peruvian teams in history, entered the second qualifying round, they faced a very difficult challenge.

They faced last season’s Copa Libertadores semi-finalists, Ecuador’s Barcelona SC. Despite their successes in the Libertadores, Barcelona could only finish fourth in the Ecuadorian Serie A and had to go through the qualifying phase of this season’s competition.

They are favorably regarded as one of the best teams in the qualifying rounds and are expected to continue, which left Universitario as serious underdogs heading into the game. After a 2-0 defeat in Ecuador, Universitario had a mountain to climb ahead of the return game in Lima.

The U were offered a share of the fortune, with centre-back Luca Sosa sent off for a last-ditch tackle on Peru international striker Alex Valera. The home team had more than an hour with a power play. They managed to put the ball in the back of the net twice, but both were ruled out.

As frustrations grew harder to contain, Alex Valera was sent off in stoppage time late in the game and Barcelona progressed to face Brazilian side América Futebol Clube in the final qualifying round.

Despite his exit, there were promising signs for Universitario, and no one more than Piero Quispe shone on two legs.

Piero Quispe (L) of Universitario, against Barcelona

The Universitario academy youngster is taking his first real steps into the first team this season, having made nine appearances last year. Quispe is a talented midfielder who shows technical class and composure beyond his years and was able to enter a Libertadores tie without showing his inexperience at all.

He’s a short player and only around 170cm tall, but he’s competed well throughout and has become a key part of Universitario’s midfield this season.

There have long been concerns about how young players find opportunities in Peru’s top teams, with many managers prioritizing experience over youngsters in short-term planning of their own futures.

So-called small teams like San Martin de Porres regularly provide opportunities for young players, although big teams like Universitario and Alianza Lima often find it difficult to promote players from their academies.

For this reason, the development of young players in Peru has become a hope rather than a plan. There is limited long-term planning from the academy to the first team.

Financial constraints are one of the reasons why academies are not favored as much as the arrival of players with regular experience in Liga 1 or South American leagues. There is no guarantee that they will be able to develop enough players to compete in the league considering the money it will take to invest.

Even for top teams like Sporting Cristal who will be awaiting the group stage draw for the Libertadores, the academy system has been able to thrive thanks to the investment in the club that many teams across the Peru simply do not.

Training academies are often limited in the time available to train, and it can be difficult to organize them like the senior training sessions or some of the top league academies in Brazil and Argentina.

It’s a struggle for clubs as many have voted to scrap La Bolsa, a rule that ensures a certain number of minutes must be completed each season by players under 22. Some teams think they better ignore it and take hit points for not obeying than they would if they were playing their young rookies.

The league is struggling due to this lack of planning and the continued shuffling of players on one-year contracts in the league who continue to take their place in the starting rosters due to the number of appearances they have. already done.

Continuing with those players who have shown an inability to compete at the Libertadores or Sudamericana level, the league continues to remain at the current level, stagnating against others looking to grow and improve.

Independiente del Valle have been a team that is frequently brought up in these conversations, focusing on developing their academy and providing the Ecuadorian national team with a number of their new young stars who have gone on to play in stronger leagues in Europe. This comes from raising the level of their league without having to buy players overseas.

It’s obviously well planned and thought out, the philosophy and development planning is intricate and professional, something a long way off in Peru at present in most of the country.

In order to start working on the development of the league standard, the development of young players must be improved. Without raising the level of the league itself, the competitiveness of the teams in continental competitions will sometimes remain disappointing or show good efforts but the lack of quality will cost them dearly.

The Peruvian Football Federation (FPF) needs to think about how to help its clubs improve the basic level of academy football and support its young players.

Ricardo Gareca uses an experienced squad in the national team and young players looking to become the future of the national team should consider leaving the league as soon as they can to improve their development so they can be considered.

It’s not a quick fix or an easy formula to follow, but there are more players like Quispe in the academies now, who just don’t have a chance to develop in a first-team environment.

Peru hope Sporting Cristal and Alianza Lima will compete well in the group stages and hopes of reaching third place and qualifying for the Sudamericana will be the most realistic hopes in 2022.


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