For Peruvian supporters, the World Cup really was about the taking part

Words by Chloe Beresford Illustration by Philippe Fenner
July 5, 2018

Back in 1982, Michael Jackson released his Thriller album, the first ever CD player was sold in Japan, the film ET was released in American cinemas and a pint of beer cost around 72p. Culture Club and Bucks Fizz had number one singles that same year, while Italy won the World Cup.

It was also the last time in which Peru had featured at the tournament, meaning qualification for this year’s event in Russia was the first time many of their supporters had experienced. “I was only one year old,” revealed Luis Miguel Echegaray, co-host of SI TV’s Planet Futbol. “Which is why this year was so important to so many Peruvians. The memories and stories we would hear from our parents finally came full circle.”

For those of us who support other nations, it is hard to imagine waiting 36 years to see your country take part in football’s most eagerly anticipated tournament, which is why it is important to take a pause and just think about what it would feel like for those who have endured such a long interval.

I mean, actually stop for a minute and really think about it.

England speak of their hurt after a drought of 52 years following a World Cup win and Italy Captain Gianluigi Buffon sobbed in front of the cameras following their elimination in the playoffs that meant the Azzurri missed out for the first time in 60 years. That’s not to say that the pain suffered wasn’t real for them, but a team like Peru could only imagine such longevity and this only serves to highlight just how relative each nation’s hopes and dreams are. What England and Italy have experienced, in footballer terms, were “first world problems.”

Political turmoil, social issues and genuine upheaval are also factors that are not seen on the same scale in Western Europe as they are in South America. For countries like Peru, football gives a chance to celebrate what is truly important to their people and provides an outlet for the genuine pride in their national identity.

“For many years, we were the laughing stock of South America from a football perspective, “ continued Luis Miguel. “Decades of an inferiority complex and indiscipline were among many reasons for this, and also the political landscape of the nation was in disarray throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, so we never felt the country was moving forward. Making it to Russia this year is, in a way, an opportunity to exhale and celebrate that not only did we make it to the World Cup, but how we overcame adversity.”

That’s right, exhale. Take a minute to clear any preconceptions and truly think about what that must have been like as a Peruvian. Then consider that this nation were so proud, so overjoyed to have made it to the World Cup in 2018 that they made an official video in order to show the rest of the world exactly why it meant so much to them.

They say that “even on unlevel playing fields, the way out is to rise, yelling Arriba Peru!” and they did just that. They may have faced defeat to bigger European opponents in their opening two matches with Denmark and France, however those Peru supporters focussed on an honourable performance, looking beyond the result alone to rejoice in the simplicity of being present in the tournament, a fact that fans of many other sides take for granted.

There is Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in this team – and many of the players are inexperienced on the international stage – so anything other than just showing up would have been a bonus.

Then it happened.

After 17 minutes of action versus Australia in the final group game, an already-eliminated Peru punted a long ball up field, which was crossed from the left-hand side to just inside the box. An incoming Andre Carrillo then fired a right-footed effort into the bottom left corner, a goal that sent the already joyous Peru supporters into seventh heaven.

Yet the best feeling, according to Luis Miguel, was when Paolo Guerrero scored the second. The word guerrero literally means “warrior” in English and this player has brought his surname to life every time he pulled on his national team’s shirt since a 2004 debut. It seemed as though he might not be able to play after a doping ban for having accidentally ingested a banned substance while drinking Peruvian herbal tea, but common sense prevailed and his sentence was overturned.

“When Andre Carrillo found the net, it was all that we needed to see just to exhale after 36 years of suffering,” Luis Miguel continued. “But when Paolo Guerrero scored, that was the ultimate feeling of ecstasy. He was such a huge reason why we made it to World Cup in the first place. When he scored, after everything he has gone through, it felt like we all scored.”

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A moment in time where nothing else matters, where a group of people come together in an explosion of elation is something that makes the World Cup so special. These supporters hadn’t seen their side victorious in a shoot-out and neither had they progressed to the knockout stages but for them, that moment released years of frustration and struggle, not just on the pitch but within their lives, too.

Just exhale.

This World Cup has provided us with a unique opportunity to see things from the other side, to embrace new cultures, and to really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order that we appreciate what we might normally take for granted.

What are you looking for?