Peru’s Evocative Return

Random Blather

  • Peru’s footballing reputation has been soiled for 40 years
  • Ricardo Gareca’s team has qualified for their first World Cup in 36 years
  • Peru’s World Cup pedigree promises excitement

When the sixth Argentinian goal went in to a cacophony of hysterical jubilation, the reputation of Peruvian footballers was transformed. Prior to that final 1978 World Cup second phase group match in Rosario, Peruvian football brought to mind instinctive, insouciant flamboyance, flair, and hilariously eccentric goalkeeping. After the sixth goal confirmed the hosts’ passage to the final, Peruvian football was tainted, its footballers associated with the blood-stained junta General Jorge Videla. To this day, that reputation has never recovered.

Peru’s qualification this week for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia gives its footballers a chance of redemption. Steadily improving in recent years under Argentinian coach Ricardo Gareca, Peru finally returned to the big World Cup stage after an absence of 36 years. The 1982 World Cup in Spain was a forgettable experience. Despite a thoroughly-deserved 1-1 draw with eventual champions Italy, Peru were demolished by a Zbigniew Boniek-inspired Poland and finished bottom of Group 1, the original group of sleep.

Having drawn 0-0 with emerging Cameroon in La Coruna, Peru were playing catch up. Even though Poland and Italy had also emerged scoreless from their opening clash in Vigo, Peru’s dropped points were considered wounding. However, when the Poles also failed to score against the African minnows, qualification was back in their hands. Scoreless at half-time in the decisive game against the Poles, Peru simply needed to hold on to, in all likelihood, progress. While Cameroon and Italy were still to play, only a freak scoreline would prevent Peruvian progress if they could maintain their goals scored lead over the Poles. Then, as in Rosario, Peru collapsed. It ended 5-1 and, for the second successive World Cup, Peru departed on a hammering.

Yet, Peru were once revered for their football. Teofilo Cubillas was the star of their 1970 campaign in Mexico. With Hector Chumpitaz, Hugo Sotil, Cesar Cueto, and Juan Carlos Oblitas, Peru’s two 1970s World Cup appearances were generally thrilling affairs. A preposterously complacent Scotland were destroyed in Mendoza in 1978 by the long-range shooting of Cubillas. The eccentric Ramon Quiroga, “El Loco” to his friends, saved a Don Masson penalty along the way – and tackled a startledĀ Grzegorz Lato on the half-way line, no less, in the narrow 1-0 defeat to Poland that effectively ended their interest in the Argentinian tournament.

Defensively, they were suspect. Brazil had little trouble sticking seven goals past them in two encounters over eight years, but they did manage to hold the great Dutch side scoreless in 1978. It all added up to thrills and spills at both ends of the field.

So now they are back. Ranked an inflated tenth in the world, Peru defeated New Zealand over two legs to book their ticket to Russia. Seeded in Pot 2 for next month’s draw in Moscow, Peru will arrive in Russia with genuine hope of progressing to the knockout stage. With arguably the greatest playing strip in international football – a red diagonal sash on a snow white shirt – Peru’s presence is an evocative one for those of a certain vintage. Many will hope that the vintage football served up all those years ago can be served up again and that, finally, after 40 years of contempt, Peruvian football can regain a little of its lost lustre.

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