Back to the Andes with Pride


Adios Peru, a team who found the net too late. Farewell to that iconic strip too, for now.


If there was such a thing as a dark horse, a species now rendered effectively extinct through the dissemination of technology, I thought it would be La Blanquirroja.

The elements were in the mix for a famous run - a first qualification in 36 years, a football-mad nation and a legendary captain who only got the OK from FIFA to play at the last minute thanks to a Hail Mary campaign over a cup of tea.

The Paulo Guerrero saga forged a concrete team spirit in the squad, a togetherness rocket-fuelled by the 45,000 Peruvians in Russia, the seventh largest fan group allegedly, for the trip of a lifetime.

Team confidence was to the fore as they flew at Denmark in their opening match but tragically lost after Christian Cueva leaned back and sent his penalty sailing over the bar. Another Christian, Eriksen, sent his compatriot Yussuf Poulsen free to score at the other end and nick the points.

Who knows what would have happened if Cueva had found the net instead. At the final whistle today against Australia, despite a convincing 2-0 win over a team who needed to win, he sat down by himself and cried, still blaming himself for that miss.

Peru had deserved three points against the Danes but came away with none. Nevertheless they won a legion of admirers and in right-winger Andre Carrillo they had a sublime attacker.

There was a sense of justice today that Carrillo and Guerrero scored and that Peru won, despite already having being eliminated. For Guerrero, which means warrior in Spanish it was a famous last battle - his first and probably last World Cup goal at the age of 34.

I recall attending a similar scenario at Euro '92 in Sweden where Scotland had been knocked out after defeats to the Dutch and Germans and had nothing but pride to play for in their final match.

Their opponents that day, the short-lived Confederation of Independent States (the Soviet Union during its break-up) needed a win to advance but ended up losing 3-0.

Before that match the Scottish fans were amazingly upbeat and were all saying quite soberly that they would be surprised if they did not win that evening. Germany were expecting a Russian win and elimination but they need not have worried.

The partying Peruvians in Sochi today had the same spirit of invincibility the Scots had that day in Norrkopping. They celebrated with tears of joy at their winning swansong in Russia. Two defeats in the first two matches would normally mean howls from the press for the manager's head.

But instead we have been treated to a nation and its newspapers pleading with Ricardo Gareca to reconsider his decision to leave after the World Cup.

Their supporters outnumbered their rivals and made memories that will live with them forever. Their team caught fire too late and had no luck in their opening game when you only have three games to advance you cannot afford to lose more than once.

Let us hope Los Incas take this World Cup as a springboard, starting with next summer's Copa America in Brazil, to get back into the leading pack of South American football nations.

We have missed the passion of Peru.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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