They may not be world-beaters, but the red and white diamond top of Peru has twice delivered a stab in the heart to CRAIG STEPHEN.
He’s never quite recovered from 1978, when Ally McLeod’s Scotland side’s first step to winning the World Cup instead was an agonising 3-1 defeat and a quick exit soon followed.
And last year, the All Whites of his adopted New Zealand were dispatched in an intercontinental play-off.
Here, Craig relives both events, but finds so much more in the history of the late-blooming Peru football scene – of the worst football disaster in history; of Olympic heartache in Hitler’s home town; of the glory days of the 1970s; and ultimately redemption as they prepare for their first World Cup for 36 years.
Like many other Latin American countries, football in Peru was largely introduced by the British. Sailors stopping off at Callao – at that time an important trading port – would arrange impromptu kickabouts with local residents.
English immigrants in the country also helped the game gain a foothold; ex-pat residents in Lima formed sports clubs such as the Lima Cricket and Football club which was founded in 1859.
By the late 19th century, several clubs were formed, such as the Lima Cricket Club, the Ciclista Lima Association and Atlético Chalaco. The sport soon spread beyond the capital, with some, such as the Italian community’s Circolo Sportivo Italiano, reflecting the diverse cultural ties.
It wasn’t until 1922 that the Peruvian Football Federation was established and the Peruvian Football League tournament began in 1926.
The Federation joined CONMEBOL in 1925, and four years later sent a team to the South American Championship in Argentina. It didn’t go entirely well, with suggestions players had more loyalty to their club than the national team, while it appears the team was riven by class and racial divisions.
The first fielded XI was composed largely of players from Alianza Lima and Universitario de Deportes. The former was composed of working class men and the latter of white university students. Feeling like they were ostracised and left out of the team, Alianza players quit en masse.
The Football Federation stepped in, offered an olive branch to the Alianza players and a more cohesive unit was ready for the 1930 World Cup.Embed from Getty Images
During the 1920s and 1930s, Peruvian clubs toured their fellow South American countries. There was a fair amount of skill among the Peruvians, and their exceptional technique was applauded across the continent.
Therefore, it was no surprise that Peru was invited to the inaugural World Cup in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Peru kicked off their account against one of only four European sides involved, Romania. In a feisty encounter a Romanian player suffered a broken leg, and in a separate incident Plácido Galindo was ordered off, the first red card to be shown in the tournament.
Despite equalising Romania’s early strike through Luis de Souza Ferreira on 75 minutes, Peru lost 3-1.
Against the hosts, in front of a crowd of nearly 58,000 (55,000 more than in their opening match) Peru went down by a single goal and said their goodbyes.
Exclusion in the fascist heartland
There was an improvement in fortunes at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where the team smashed Finland 7-3, with Teodoro Fernandez scoring five of those, and then surprisingly defeated the fancied Austrians 4-2 in what was then called over-time, in what turned out to be a pyrrhic victory.
Austria led 2-0 at the interval but Peru dominated the second and drew level through goals from Jorge Alcalde and Alejandro Villaneuva.
They had no less than three goals disallowed during over-time by the referee, Norwegian Thoralf Kristiansen, and still won 4–2.
A semi-final in Berlin against Poland awaited. But then, one of the most disgraceful events in Olympic football history occurred.
The Austrians demanded a rematch claiming Peruvian fans had stormed the field, a version backed up by the Daily Sketch, whose report carried an extraordinary account of “about 1,000 Peruvian supporters” storming on to the pitch with “iron bars, knives and even a pistol”.
However, there were reports in Peru that Kristiansen abandoned the match in the 119th minute because he had suddenly noticed the pitch was the wrong size. This provoked anti-German protests in Peru, with dockers refusing to load goods on to German ships, and also on to a Norwegian one, an Olympic flag torn down and stones being thrown at the German consulate.Embed from Getty Images
Austria backed the small pitch claim at a hastily-convened hearing which the Peruvians failed to attend and further alleged that the opposing players had manhandled their own men.
A few years ago a Peruvian journalist claimed that Peru had intended to go to the hearing into the match but got stuck in traffic due to a military parade.
With the winning side’s version of events never heard, the Olympic Committee and FIFA sided with the Austrians and ordered a rematch.
Disgusted by the decision, the entire Peruvian Olympic delegation headed home. Colombia did the same in solidarity.
“We’ve no faith in European athletics. We have come here and found a bunch of merchants,” said a member of the Peruvian Olympic Committee.
Austria defeated the Poles 3-1 in the semi-final but were beaten to the gold medal by Italy.
There is, of course, a murky background behind the Games. It was held in Hitler’s Germany, but the host side had been eliminated in the first round by Norway (whilst Hitler watched). Peru had five black players in their team – Austria is the home country of Adolf Hitler – and also the Austrians’ official language is German. Was the ref nobbled? Was racism a factor? Did at least 1,000 people really make it all the way from Peru for the Games?
A more telling victory would come the following year, 1939, at the South American Championship (later the Copa América) held in Lima where they emerged unbeaten. The English influence was continued as the coach was Jack Greenwell, who had played for Crook Town and West Auckland in County Durham.
The Peruvians saw off Ecuador (5-2), Chile (3-1), and Paraguay (3-0) before facing regional and world giants Uruguay in the final match of the round-robin-based tournament which was contested without Colombia, Argentina and Brazil.
Uruguay had also won all their three matches but had to settle for second prize as Peru emerged 2-1 winners in front of a capacity crowd of 40,000. Teodoro Fernández didn’t scored in that match but was still the tournament’s top goal scorer with seven goals. Jorge Alcalde helped himself to five, including the first strike in the game against Uruguay.
This qualified the side for the 1942 World Cup and they would have been tipped to do well but for the small matter of World War II and inevitable cancellation.
It was to be a brief peak in glory as Peru’s fortunes dipped in the post-war years, a Bolivarian Games title in 1948 being the notable achievement.
By 1960 Peru had developed a redoubtable team and it qualified for the finals of that year’s Olympic Games through a 9-2 aggregate thrashing of Uruguay and a 2-0 group match win at home against Brazil.
In Rome, however, they had to endure defeat to France (2-1) and a 6-2 beating by Hungary before gaining a consolation 3-1 victory over India, who despite not being noted for its prowess with this particular type of ball, had held France to a 1-1 draw and only lost 2-1 to the Hungarians.
The English link reconnected
This era saw the Peruvians host England twice. For the first encounter, in May 1959, the visitors wore blue for the first time since the infamous loss to the United States in 1950 and gave the 19-year-old Chelsea forward Jimmy Greaves his international debut. It was a bittersweet debut; Greaves got on the scoresheet, but the home side dished out a 4-1 thrashing. The blue top was never seen again. One English journalist watching wrote: “Imagine the indignity that Peru, playing with four good players and seven ballet dancers, and sponsored by a brewery, made England look like a panting novice.”
Soon after, Juan Seminario, who scored thrice, gained a move to Portugal; while Victor Benitez, Miguel Loayza and Juan Joya also moved overseas, moves that affected the national side due to the Football Federation’s policy of only using home-based players.
Thus, it was a very different side that, almost precisely three years later, played a touring English side in Lima again, in a warm-up for England for the 1962 World Cup in Chile. Greaves scored a hat-trick and England led 4-0 at half-time, at which it remained.
All this was overshadowed by the Estádio Nacional disaster on 24 May 1964 when at least 328 people died during a qualifying game against Argentina for the Tokyo Olympic Games following a pitch invasion. This was looked at in detail in a previous Pink article.
The World Cup had been something of a millstone for Peru since 1930; they hadn’t bothered trying to qualify until 1954 but for that and the next two tournaments, Peru would have to watch from home.
The Cubillas years
In the late 1960s, however, Peru played some stunning football to make only their second appearance in the finals, and the first without being invited. It would be a major breakthrough as Peru would make three of the four finals between 1970 and 1982.
La Blanquirroja (The White and Red) eliminated Argentina and Bolivia to get to Mexico, and overcome an apparent injustice to make it there. The game in the Bolivian capital La Paz is infamous for Venezuelan referee Sergio Chechelev’s decision to chalk off of what the Peruvians have long claimed was a perfectly valid goal. Bolivia won 2-1. It has been reported that, years later, Chechelev admitted to what Peruvians have long suspected, that Argentina had paid him off.
But in the final group game, in Buenos Aires, ten-man Peru secured a precious 2-2 draw, defying a suspect penalty and other contentious decisions. It’s the only time Argentina has failed to advance in World Cup qualifying.
Peru’s side contained the likes of Teófilo Cubillas, Pedro Pablo Leon, Héctor Chumpitaz, Ramon Mifflin, Hugo Sotil, Roberto Challe, and César Cueto, none of whom were known prior to the first game, but some of whom would become hugely familiar, especially in Scottish homes later in the decade.Embed from Getty Images
The 1970 extravaganza was the first to be shown in colour on television but is also renowned for the exquisite play of the Brazilians and a dazzling final. Pelé, Jairzinho, Rivellino, Carlos Alberto, Gérson and Tostão, even now they remain ingrained in legend; but there was also Beckenbauer, Rivera, Boninsegna, Muller, and Moore.
Peru, however, prepared for their first match in the wake of a terrible tragedy at home.
A magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit the coastal town of Chimbote on May 31, leaving about 70,000 people dead and more than 800,000 homeless. Landslides, with debris travelling at speeds of up to 200 mph down a mountainside, destroyed whole villages. A decision whether to play or not was agonised over, but it was felt the side could offer some national pride.
It seemed the decision might have been the incorrect one, as Peru trailed Bulgaria 2-0 in Leon. However, Alberto Gallardo and Chumpitaz got them back on level terms before Cubillas netted the winner and a legend was born.
With the sheer scale of the disaster now becoming apparent, Peruvian minds appeared elsewhere as they laboured against unheralded Morocco before, once again, clicking into gear, scoring three times without reply, Cubillas netting two of them.
This secured qualification for the knockout round but a Gerd Muller hat-trick in the last match ensured the Germans topped the group and Peru would face the tournament favourites in the quarter-finals.
In an incredible contest in Guadalajara, Brazil raced into a two-goal lead after just 15 minutes thanks to Rivellino and Tostão. Alberto Gallardo pulled one back before Tostão struck his second to give the Seleção a two-goal advantage again shortly after the restart. Cubillas made it 3-2 with 20 minutes left to play before Jairzinho broke Peru’s resistance with a late strike.
They would have been expected to be a feature of the 1974 finals in Germany too but lost a play-off against Chile on neutral territory.
Despite this, Peru’s greatest spell was forthcoming. In 1975 the side lifted its second Copa América, beating Brazil 3-1 before overcoming Colombia in the final.
Argentina awaited in 1978 and so did Scotland. Coach Ally McLeod had made a lot of noise, and so did the Tartan Army, but in Cordoba, Peru delivered a hammer blow. Cubillas ran rings around the hapless Caledonian midfield, and in the 70th and 76th minutes, broke Scottish hearts for a 3-1 win.
“I would like to congratulate Scotland and Mr MacLeod on the team they presented to us,” deadpanned the Peru manager, Marcos Calderón.
Perhaps regarding the Peruvians as “minnows” as one branch of the Tartan Army suggested, might have revealed some complacency in the Scots camp.
A goalless draw against the Netherlands and a 4-1 defeat of true minnows Iran (Cubillas getting three) propelled Peru to the top of Group 4, and a showdown with Brazil, Argentina and Poland in the second group stage.
Peru were already out of the reckoning before the final, infamous game against the hosts, following a 3-0 spanking by Brazil and a 1-0 defeat to Poland. The match in Rosario remains a stain on the good name of football to this day. Argentina needed at least four goals in the evening game to qualify ahead of Brazil, who had beaten Poland that afternoon, to make it to the final. Argentina won 6-0, and there have long been suspicions of collusion, which former Peruvian MP Genaro Ledesma failed to dispel when he told a Buenos Aries court in 2012 that the respective dictatorships had decided on the result beforehand.Embed from Getty Images
Peru qualified for Spain ’82 but the side was shorn of the stars of the past few years, with only Cubillas from the great 70s sides surviving.
They drew against both Cameroon and Italy, and the first half against Poland ended in stalemate, but Poland upped a gear and Peru stalled – 5-1 to the Poles.
For the next three decades plus, Peru endured heartache after heartache, falling short in successive South American qualifying groups.
There was a disaster too, in the air. On 8 December, 1987, a flight chartered by the Alianza Lima club plunged into the Pacific Ocean six miles short of Callao. Only the pilot survived and the death toll included all the players, managers, and staff on board. Alianza lost its most promising squad in a decade, and some of the best Peruvian prospects, as well as that year’s league title.
The long road back
The 2018 World Cup campaign began agonisingly for La Blanquirroja, with a 2-0 defeat in Colombia and a 3-4 loss to Chile in an extraordinary match in Lima. In their next four games, Peru won just once and were seemingly already out of the reckoning.
They lost the next game too – 2-0 in Bolivia in September 2016, but two months later FIFA reversed the result because the home nation had used an ineligible player.
In the meantime, Peru had beaten Ecuador, drawn at home against Argentina, and lost to Chile.
A memorable 4-1 win in Paraguay was followed by a not unexpected home defeat to Brazil.
At the start of 2017, a second 2-2 stalemate with Venezuela began an unbeaten run of six games that propelled them up the ten-team table. This included 2-1 wins over Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador, and a commendable scoreless draw in Buenos Aries.
In their 18th and final match. Peru were held one-all in Lima by Colombia, which left the visitors out of the reckoning and Peru in fifth place and a play-off spot. Controversy raged when TV coverage showed Colombia’s Radamel Falcao talking to several Peru players near the end with the score level, it has been claimed to inform them of results elsewhere and that a draw in this match would mean both teams had a chance of qualifying.Embed from Getty Images
It was dubbed the Pact of Lima but if Colombia had settled for a draw they were badly mistaken as they finished sixth on the same points, 26, as Peru but with an inferior goal difference.
Ranked in the top ten, Peru were expected to be no match for lowly New Zealand but last November they laboured in Wellington to a scoreless draw but were more dominant in Lima winning 2-0. It wasn’t pretty and while they got the job done, it might suggest Peru have some work to do if they are to make the same impression the stars of the 1970s did.
They have, however, been drawn in alongside France, Australia and Denmark at Russia 2018 so qualification for the last 16 isn’t out of reach.
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