BY CRAIG MUNCEY

South America has produced many fantastic footballers over the generations, players such as Garrincha, Jairzinho, Pele, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Carlos Valderrama and Enzo Francescoli to name just a few. However, there is one South American country which is not renowned for its production line of producing world class football talent – Peru. But on the 8th March 1949, one did trundle off the assembly line; his name was Teofilo Juan Cubillas Arizaga, better known as Teofilo Cubillas.

Before I go into Cubillas the footballer, I would like to give you some idea of what was going on in Peru during this period.  Lima – the capital of Peru – where Cubillas was born in 1949, had expanded massively in the 1940’s with people from the Andean region of Peru moving to the capital in the hope of a better life. The city could not cope with this massive influx of people, and thus many shanty town areas sprung up, it was a difficult life for the Peruvian people.  Anyone who could be successful gave the people massive hope and inspiration that they too could succeed.

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Teofilo Cubillas, nicknamed “El Nene” (The Kid), made his debut for Peruvian side Alianza Lima when aged just sixteen. That season, Cubillas finished top goalscorer in the Peruvian top division, Primera; a fantastic achievement for any sixteen year old in any professional league.

31 May 1970, Peru suffered a massive earthquake, which resulted in a massive avalanche.  The earthquake and resulting landslide affected an area greater than Belgium and Holland combined, killing between 67,000 and 70,000 people – a total devastation of the country.  The disaster occurred just days before the Peruvian national team was due to participate at the World Cup in Mexico. The players felt they needed to go there and perform to at the very least give the Peruvian people some crumbs of comfort during those dark times.

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Peru were a big success at the tournament. They played a great brand of football as they did throughout the 1970’s, their iconic white kits with the diagonal red stripe, glistening under the hot Mexican sun.  Cubillas helped Peru to reach the quarter finals of the World Cup, losing to eventual winners Brazil (4-2) in a fantastic game of football. Cubillas did not look out of place against the top players around at that time, scoring five goals in that tournament, and in each game Peru played in. His close control, dribbling ability and shooting power thrilled fans all across the globe.

1972 and Cubillas was the Copa Libertadores top scorer and also won individual acclaim as he won the South American footballer of the Year, which, when you think of some of the players in South America at that time such as Rivellino and Jairzinho, illustrates just how good a player the Peruvian was.

Europe beckoned for Cubillas in 1973, a new challenge and the player joined the Swiss club, FC Basle for a fee of £97,000, the following year moving on to Portuguese club FC Porto for a fee of £200,000. At Porto he scored 48 goals in 85 appearances, a stunning strike rate, when you take into account Cubillas was a creative attacking midfielder, very much in the number 10 role.

Peru won The South American Championship, the Copa America, in 1975 beating Brazil in the final. This was only the second time in Peru’s history they had won this cup, and Peru at this time had a fantastic midfield made up of Hugo Sotil, who won a La Liga Title with Barcelona, Cesar Cueto and Cubillas.  This trio was as good as any midfield to be found anywhere in the world.

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At the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Cubillas yet again played a significant role in Peru’s campaign. Cubillas scored twice in their first match against Scotland and got an assist in a 3-1 victory.  Both of his goals were superb efforts, both from outside the box, leaving goalkeeper Alan Rough clutching at thin air.  He then scored a hat trick against Iran in another victory.  Cubillas is still only one of three players in World Cup finals history to score five or more goals in two tournaments; the others being Germans, Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose – pretty illustrious company.

After a spell back in Peru, Cubillas moved to North America in 1979 to be part of the NASL revolution.  Cubillas initially joined Fort Lauderdale Strikers and then had spells with Alianza Lima, South Florida Sun and Miami Sharks, finally retiring in 1989, 23 years after he made his professional debut. There was even time to fit in a third World Cup finals in Spain in 1982.

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Teofilo Cubillas was a magnificent footballer; he has been voted the greatest ever Peruvian player, renowned globally for his technical ability.  In total he made 534 club appearances, scoring 314 goals and for his nation, Peru, played 81 games, scoring 26 goals. He is still his nations highest ever goalscorer.

Cubillas was one of those rare footballers who also culturally had a massive impact on his country. His people had someone to inspire to be, and even though Peru had a very good team throughout the 1970’s, there was no doubt who the star was.  All the children playing in rough, dusty patches of ground around where they lived dreamt of wearing the famous white and red shirt with the number 10 emblazoned on the back, and one day, to be the next Teofilo Cubillas.  He was some player.

YOU CAN FOLLOW CRAIG ON TWITTER @Muncey05

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