The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is still more than two years away, but qualifying matches have already begun.
The Peruvian national team played its first three qualification matches during the final months of 2011. The team got off to an excellent start with a home win against Paraguay, but away losses to Chile and Ecuador have already put Peru under pressure. For the Peruvian team, its fans and Peruvian soccer in general, 2012 is going to be a big, big year.
The South American (CONMEBOL) qualifying group is tough... very tough. As tournament hosts, Brazil does not have to go through the qualifying process. But that still pitches Peru against world-class opponents such as Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay. Four teams can qualify from the group, guaranteeing a place in the World Cup finals. The fifth-placed team will have to play in an intercontinental play-off, a last-gasp opportunity to reach the World Cup.
After three matches, Peru currently sits in eighth place in the nine-team South American group (Bolivia is stuck at the bottom). There's still a lot of soccer to be played, but the pressure is on.
For travelers to Peru, the South American qualifying group provides a few opportunities to watch some tense international soccer. Peru has a friendly against Tunisia on February 29 (if you're in Peru, watch it in a bar with the locals). More friendly matches will be scheduled for 2012, but the World Cup qualifying matches are the ones to watch out for:
June 2, 2012 -- PERU vs. Colombia
June 9, 2012 -- Uruguay vs. PERU
Sept 7, 2012 -- PERU vs. Venezuela
Sept 11, 2012 -- PERU vs. Argentina
Oct 12, 2012 -- Bolivia vs. PERU
Oct 16, 2012 -- Paraguay vs. PERU
Peru plays its home games at the Estadio Nacional in Lima. If you're visiting Peru at the time of one of the above home matches (versus Colombia, Venezuela or Argentina), I'd definitely recommend trying to get some tickets. Peru versus Argentina is a particularly mouthwatering prospect. For qualifying fixtures in 2013, take a look at FIFA's South American Zone schedule.