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Back to Peru - 24/03/2003

Back to Peru

Newcastle United's Nolberto Solano is determined to do his best to help Peru reach the 2006 World Cup finals. But he bemoans a lack of ambition in the Peruvian game and a failure to nurture existing talent and build a team worthy of succeeding Teofilo Cubillas's brilliant generation of the 1970s. "I can never turn down my national team," Solano said in an interview with Reuters at his Newcastle home. "The best thing that can happen to you is to play for your country," said the wing back, who has 57 caps but has yet to play in the World Cup finals. "We are not like Argentina, Brazil, we don't have so many players as to enjoy the luxury of saying we won't play in the national team."

Peru's last appearance in the World Cup finals was in 1982 in Spain but their biggest achievement was reaching the last eight in 1970 in Mexico after eliminating Argentina in a three-nation qualifying group the previous year. The Peruvians lost to eventual winners Brazil in a thrilling 4-2 defeat in their quarter-final in Guadalajara. Eight years later, having failed to qualify for the 1974 finals in West Germany, an aging Cubillas inspired Peru to a place in the second-round group stage in Argentina at the expense of Scotland.

South America altered their qualifying format in the mid-1990s with the 10 nations playing each other twice in a marathon round robin of 18 fixtures, and Peru have struggled under the system. To add to their woes, South American internationals based in Europe face long flights back home almost every month for the better part of two years and often find themselves in the middle of club versus country conflicts of interest. "Unfortunately, having to go all the way back to South America is what is complicated for those of us who play here in Europe," said Solano. "What suits us 'weakest' (teams) in South America is the all-against-all (round-robin) format because we get chances to recover (with so many matches). "(Divided into small groups) doesn't suit us. If we get a tough group, it's bye bye. "But on a personal level it suits me better so as not to have problems with my club (by going away less)."

Solano, at 28, says it is now or never for him. "This is my last chance to go to a World Cup because of my age. I'm going to make the most of it, I'm going to keep going (to the national team)," he said. "We're going to fight to qualify but we don't have all that many players and it's going to be very tough. Ahead of us there are two almost certain candidates which are Argentina and Brazil, because of their strength, standing, everything, and then Uruguay and Paraguay and afterwards there's the rest of us to fight for a berth."

South America have been given four fixed places in the 2006 finals in Germany with the World Cup holders, Brazil, obliged to qualify for the first time. "The league in Peru doesn't help much, there aren't many players. There are three of us in Europe -- (Bayern Munich striker Claudio) Pizarro, (Andres) Mendoza who plays in Belgium (for Club Bruges) and maybe (Cesar) Rebosio, one who plays in the Spanish second division (for Real Zaragoza). "That's why Argentina and Brazil always stand out. Uruguay too, they have players in top-level competition, like (Paolo) Montero playing the Champions League every year, (Alvaro) Recoba."

Solano, who began his career at Alianza Lima, one of Peru's big three clubs, before winning three successive league titles with Sporting Cristal, said only a few talented youngsters made the grade in his country. "Of my age group, the ones that were with me at Alianza, hardly any stayed (in the game). It's a shame because there was loads of talent. "Everyone can play football but when you want to dedicate yourself (to it) in full you have to sacrifice a lot of things." Solano, who spent a year playing for Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires before joining Newcastle in 1998, said there was a gulf between Peruvian and Argentine football. "We have unbelievable talent but the difference is that we don't have the ambition of the Argentine player...his attitude. "Because of the very competition they have, it forces players not to be satisfied, the (Argentine) player always wants more."

The Peruvian game, Solano said, could not escape the general economic malaise in the country and this was reflected in the national team's results. "A lot of clubs don't pay their clubs for three months. The wages of a provincial player are no more than one thousand, 1,500 dollars a month," he said. "How can you then demand from them results at national team level? You're playing with players who earn 10, 15, 20 thousand (dollars) a week and you are going to put pressure on one who gets 300 a week?" He said the problems in Peruvian football started at the top. "The situation is the same as that of the country. Sadly, there is so much dirt in football, it has become so corrupt that no private enterprise wants to put money into it. "But it comes from the top, the directors...They can't agree among themselves. It's a serious problem because you have to give before you can make demands." Argentine players continued to work hard at their game despite the deep economic crisis into which the country was plunged 15 months ago, Solano said. "What remains in Argentina even if there isn't any money, (is that) there are players who graft and that's something positive, they work to get out. It's their attitude. "The best solution is to work hard, play well, do things properly. Another, bigger team in the country will sign you and they'll pay you on time, and from there, go for more and more and more. That's what I did," said Solano, who was 23 when he left Boca for Newcastle. He said players should be capable of adapting to any country. "If I have to go to Russia and they're going to pay me a certain amount, I'd go. "If I could go to Miami, Cuba, Cancun to play football I'd love to," he added jokingly, naming places for their attraction not their soccer.

Reuters News Agency

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