Will Paolo Guerrero's suspension cost Peru their shot at World Cup glory?
Paolo Guerrero will have the chance to appeal the 30-day suspension that was recently handed down to him by FIFA's disciplinary committee. But that's not going to do his Peru side much good when they play away to New Zealand on Saturday in the first leg of their World Cup playoff.
And if the ruling isn't overturned, Peru's star centre-forward will be out of Wednesday's return game in Lima, too.
This, of course, is a huge blow. Guerrero's is Peru's one unquestionably world-class performer, and it is cruel to lose him for the national team's biggest game in 35 years.
Moreover, they have no like-for-like replacement -- though it is interesting that 39-year-old Claudio Pizarro has been placed on emergency stand-by for the second leg. For the away game, though, it looks as if Guerrero will be replaced by old friend Jefferson Farfan.
With this change, Peru lose physicality. Guerrero is a master at holding the ball up with his back to goal. They also lose height, since Guerrero's excellence in the air might well have been important in both penalty areas -- both attacking the ball at the New Zealand end and defending against the corners, free kicks and long throws that their opponents will hurl into their box.
Peru might gain in attacking pace, though. With Farfan, flanked by Andre Carrillo on the right, coach Ricardo Gareca can count on plenty of sinewy speed. This could be especially interesting if New Zealand go all out for a first-leg lead, overcommit to attack and leave themselves open to the counter punch.
But if a fascinating tactical matchup might has been altered by the absence of Guerrero, so too has surely been the game's mental complexion.
A grave problem in Peruvian football over recent times, recognised as such by many of the leading figures, is a lack of self-esteem. Peru sides, especially away from home, have frequently collapsed like an old man into a deck-chair after conceding the first goal. Between 2004 and last year they did not win a single World Cup qualifier away from home and barely managed a draw -- despite having a collection of players who should have been capable of better.
Gareca deserves plenty of credit for bringing calm to a highly stressed environment. His squad is mostly comprised of young players in their mid-20s. He identified their potential, stuck with them while results were disappointing and has been rewarded for his patience over the last year.
His generation now faces a make-or-break moment. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, 27, is athletic and impressive. Centre-back Cristian Ramos, just turned 29, has been quietly competent. Holding midfielder Reinaldo Tapia, 22, is strong and classy. Playmaker Cristian Cueva, coming up 26, is full of impish talent. Carrillo, 26, has pace and power at right wing. And versatile, little, left-footed midfielder Edison Flores, 23, was the revelation of the campaign, knitting the side together and shooting with surprising strength.
When they look round each other in the dressing room before taking the field in Wellington, they will surely feel the absence of Guerrero. Their reaction to it is going to be hugely important. Do they shrink into themselves, or will they grow to meet the challenge?
If the answer is the latter, then the suspension of Guerrero might even be to the team's long-term benefit.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.