Peru beat New Zealand 2-0 last night to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It was the first time Peru qualified since 1982 … when I was three and before my wife was born.
As much as I hate on soccer, I watch and cheer for the national selection.
As you could imagine, the country went ballistic with drinking and the beeping of those horns. The public celebration was similar to the nights in St. Louis the Rams won the Super Bowl in 2000 or the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006. Just qualifying was the party of a generation. Peru’s president declared today a public holiday.
“Peru fans’ celebrations after Jefferson Farfan’s goal put them on course for a first World Cup qualification in 36 years caused several earthquake-detection apps to send warnings,” according to ESPN. “Sismologia Chile initially said a tremor had occurred in neighbouring Peru just as Farfan scored but later clarified that ‘the alarm detector was activated in the district of Lima due to Peru’s goal celebration against New Zealand.’”
In the festive spirit (and because today’s a holiday), let’s look at the notable developments in Peruvian soccer that led us here.
In 2015 a great article went around describing what it’s like to be a Peruvian soccer fan. From Welcome to the choke: the ballad of a Peru fan:
[My father] helped me understand the complexity of what it means to root for La Blanquirroja. Understand that this is not the same as being a Brazilian, or an Argentinian, or dare I say it, a Chilean. We don’t hold the luxury of success, or at least the confidence of knowing that at least we’ll be there to compete. For Peruvians, the only assurance that we have in life is that we make the best ceviche in the world and that we won’t qualify for the World Cup. We are not even Cinderella – at least she made it to the ball …
“As a Peruvian, rooting for the national team is like having a toxic ex-girlfriend,” says Mariano Bustamante, an industrial administrator in Lima … “You know that every time you get back together, she’s going to deceive you, she’s going to cheat on you, but like a fool you forgive her, thinking that she will change. But she never changes, she just disappoints you, over and over again. But she’ll return in four years, and again, like a fool you’ll take her back.”
I can relate to that as a former fan of St. Louis’s hockey team, the Blues. The Blues were not an Original Six team, but part of the first NHL expansions in 1967. Today it’s the only active club among those oldest 12 teams never to have won a Stanley Cup, and they haven’t appeared in the Finals since 1970.
So I understand the thrill of small victories like making the conference finals in 2001, and the agonies of big defeats like getting knocked out in the first round after having the best record in 2000. But the difference here is that the Blues will almost certainly win the Stanley Cup someday in my lifetime. Peru, on the other hand, will not win the World Cup. Not even if they held it every year.
Peru Takes 3rd in 2015 Copa America
Despite that pessimistic article, Peru made the quarterfinals in the 2015 Copa America tournament, ultimately placing third above Brazil and Colombia.
From the picture above, can you guess who won the tournament?
Head of Peru Fiefdom Extradited
Peru Shocks the World
By beating Brazil in the 2016 Copa Centenario … with a handball goal.
If you ask me, Brazil shouldn’t have let him in the pocket. That’s what I would’ve called a “cholo tramposo” in basketball.
Paolo Guerrero Becomes All-Time Scoring Leader
In 2015 striker Paolo Guerrero was nominated as clearly-not-a-winner-but-FIFA-likes-to-nominate-dozens-of-runners-up for the Ballon d’Or award. In 2016 Guerrero surpassed legend Teofilo Cubillas to score the most goals for Peru’s national selection.
This year Guerrero was honored with the utterly unwatchable biopic, Guerrero.
Rising to the Occasion
I don’t really know how it all went down, but this year the stars aligned in South America’s CONMEBOL division standings so that Brazil and Uruguay were the only shoe-ins for the World Cup. Everybody else’s fate, including Argentina, was up in the air.
Smelling glory, Peru delivered inspiring performances including a scoreless tie against Argentina, a 1-1 tie against Colombia and another scoreless tie against New Zealand, before beating the 122-ranked Kiwis 2-0 in Lima.
The video above shows a little early celebrating between Colombia’s Falcao and Peru’s players upon learning that Chile was ass-pounded out of contention, clearing the way for both teams to qualify.
You heard it here first, the shot heard round the world, Expat Chronicles publishes a biting critique of corruption and complacency in soccer and the proposed reforms to improve the sport: How to Make Soccer More Interesting.
FIFA suspended aforementioned star scorer Paolo Guerrero for taking a banned stimulant. When the news hit, I thought Peru might fulfill its perennial sorrow legacy and fuck these games up with New Zealand.
“We have to look at the facts, which nobody knows except the experts. Everyone in Lima takes an antihistamine because of the horrible weather in the winter. Maybe he took an antihistamine and it would be unfair to be punished for that,” said President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who I generally like, but I guess you sometimes gotta be a populist for the plebes.
But then he had to go and declare today a public holiday, like Peruvians needed an excuse not to work. Now I got a house full of screaming children. Couldn’t he declare it a holiday for everybody except schools?
Ricardo Gareca Vindicated
Fast forward to last night, today, Peru managed to beat New Zealand 2-0 in Lima.
My favorite story in all this is the vindication of Peru manager Ricardo Gareca. The Argentine took over Peru’s national squad in 2015, and as I was covering Peruvian soccer in the daily grind for Peru Reports, I couldn’t believe the constant disapproval in the sports press. The public was calling for his head by the end of that year and into 2016. I was beside myself.
The strategy paid off as Peru qualifies for the first time since 1982. The above meme is currently making the rounds. Gareca’s face on the 200-soles bill replaces Santa Rosa of Lima, the patron saint of Lima and the first American-born saint.
Peruvian Soccer Beyond 2018
The various Peru expats groups on Facebook started talking about Peru’s chances in recent weeks. An American posted the above, kicking the hornet’s nest by saying soccer is not a real sport. I responded with The Onion’s coverage of soccer’s not-so-shocking announcement.
I couldn’t help myself. But my best input in the Face-osphere came when a new arrival asked why Peru has been so bad for so long. A few of the typical incorrect theories (which aren’t unique to Peru) trickled in – corruption, players who party, etc. And so I blessed them with my own brilliant analysis:
The economic factor is the most important in Peru’s failures since the 80s. You don’t see small countries with over half the population living under the poverty line in the World Cup. Peru was a regional leader in malnutrition during the 80s and 90s, and it’s hard to cultivate world-class athletes when most children get less than a glass of milk’s worth of protein every day. I believe you’ll see Peru become a contender on the level of Colombia and Chile in 10 years or so, as the children born in the last 10 to 15 years (relative prosperity) come of age.
Let that sink in, let a decade go by without forgetting it, and remember where you heard it first.
In that sense, it’s a stunning achievement Peru’s current team, which was raised in the 90s, has qualified.
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