LIMA (Reuters) - With all-time top scorer Paolo Guerrero suspended for doping, Peru are desperate for a new talisman to lead them at the World Cup — and the fans have turned to Jefferson Farfan.
The fast and powerful 33-year-old winger, known as ‘La Foquita’ (The Little Seal), is no stranger to Russia where he plays for Premier League champions Lokomotiv Moscow.
He has also had the perfect preparation, playing brilliantly and netting the first goal in the second leg of the 2-0 win over New Zealand during their inter-continental qualifying playoff.
His drilled goal came in the 27th minute and gave Peru a one-goal lead on aggregate but Farfan celebrated as if it was all over — rushing to the fans, holding aloft a No. 9 shirt for Guerrero, and crying on the turf.
“This is for my mate, with all my love and affection and all my heart. Paolo, this is for you. I promised you,” said Farfan, after the game at Lima’s pulsating National Stadium.
That match capped Farfan’s comeback after nearly 18 months out of the national team, despite being Peru’s all-time leading scorer in South American qualifiers with 16 goals.
“This is for the Peruvian people, who have suffered so much for so many years,” said Farfan, who helped to take ‘Los Incas’ to their first World Cup since 1982. “This is a national team that has its feet on the ground and means business.”
Like Guerrero, who is the godfather of his child, Farfan began his professional career with Alianza Lima. He has also been at PSV Eindhoven, Schalke 04 and Al Jazira Club.
Though he is often a creator rather than scorer, Peru coach Ricardo Gareca will probably want to use Farfan more directly at the World Cup given Guerrero’s absence.
Farfan is sadly familiar with racist stereotypes in his homeland, being subjected to black-face imitations in publicity for a snacks company in 2013 and this year by the local FOX Sports news channel, who apologised after a national outcry.
Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Ore; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Ken Ferris