South America’s World Cup qualification never seemed straight forward for anyone except Brazil as Chile sit outside qualification, Argentina are hanging onto a play-off spot and Peru are fourth in the hands of automatic qualification.
However, this is not a story about the big boys of South American football as one powerhouse will miss out, on the contrary. This is about a National Team who has been through everything in their quest to not only qualify but make proud a nation on the world stage at the World Cup and make the Peruvian national team a household name.
As always the journey of World Cup success begins in the inception of the cup. Montevideo, Uruguay 1930 where no qualification was needed and an invitation sufficed with deadlines to accept. Seven nations from the Americas accepted; Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil alongside four European nations in Romania, Belgium, Yugoslavia and France and lastly the United States of America.
In all things life trying something for the first time is not always pretty and so it was for Peru playing their first official international match versus Romania. A match which ended in a 1-3 loss for the Peruvians, a fiery match at that as the world witnessed the first player to be sent off in the World Cup. It was also a time for firsts as the match was home to a mere 300 spectators a number to this day that still holds the record for the lowest attendance in a World Cup fixture.
It was a long wait
Peru as a footballing nation had to endure one of the longest absences of football history to reach a World Cup. After the success of the inaugural World Cup in Montevideo, Uruguay, Los Blanquirojos were not on the world football stage for another 40 years.
In 1964 Mexico won the bid to host the 1970 World Cup ahead of Argentina it was the first time the competition was to be held in North America and the first time outside South America and Europe.
Peru on their way to qualifying took the CONMBEOL World Cup qualifiers by surprise as they qualified alongside Brazil and Uruguay eliminating Argentina in the final match away the historic Boca Juniors stadium, La Bombonera.
Peru entered the 1970 World Cup among the big boys of Europe in Group 4 with West Germany, Bulgaria and Morocco. Nonetheless, this group did not hide the fact the Peruvian national team had to perform a football duty but it meant more than that to the people watching at home. On the opening day of the 1970 World Cup, 31st May, 1970 a devastating earthquake to which was named the ‘Great Peruvian Earthquake,’ struck Peru in the Ancash region and Southern La Libertad region where an estimated 66,794-70,000 people lose their lives. On this same day Peru were playing against Bulgaria on the opening match-day where they conceded two quick goals clearly a psychological reaction to the Ancash tragedy. However, Peru’s squad was filled with talented players who naturally turned the game on its head.
Gallardo was one of the best on field versus Bulgaria as stated by Brian Glanville at the time. He described Gallardo’s as one of the men who turned the tide as Peru ran out 2-3 winners. Another stand out was Cubillas who’s “elusive” dribbling described by Brian Glanville was a key figure in Peru’s impressive victory over Bulgaria.
Peru’s emotional World Cup campaign came to an end in the Quarter-Finals, an impressive fete given the consequences. Peru lost 4-2 at the hands of a Brazil team with the likes of Rivelino, Tostao, Jarzinho and Pele. Cubillas was named Best Young Player and Peru received the Fair Play Award.
Peru’s impressive run in World Cups did not stop in Mexico, after failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, Peru went full steam ahead qualifying for Argentina 1978 a campaign which set the world alight.
Peruvian nationals had something to cheer about after the devastating Ancash Earthquake in 1970 as their National Team again gave them performances and results to be proud of and let them dream. Peru in Group 4 with Netherlands, Scotland and Iran topped the group undefeated. An Argentine newspaper, El Grafico, at the time called Peru’s midfield “the best in the world.” As they advanced into the second round Peru’s fairy-tale run came to an end as they lost 0-3 to Brazil and Poland 1-0, Peru had no hope even with one game to play against crowned champions Argentina. Peru left the 1970 World Cup with controversy surrounding the 6-0 loss to Argentina which allowed them to progress to the next round. Some believe Argentina’s victory was fixed so as to reach the final versus Brazil.
Spain 1982: One last hoorah
The Peru bandwagon seemed to have reached its final destination in Spain 1982 and their impressive qualifying campaign eliminated Colombia and Uruguay to reach their fourth World Cup.
It was though a rather strange build up for Peru filled with problems from the onset. Prior to the World Cup Peru embarked on a friendly tour with Matches against Hungary, France, Algeria and Romania all matches which they lost. Some say Peru’s heavy schedule and training left them with nothing in the tank at the World Cup as they were eliminated last in the group.
It was an end of a wonderful 12 years on the world stage for Peru as the world fell witness to a successful generation of players and some dubbed the best in world. From Cubillas, Gallardo, the running of Sotil and the towering defender that was Hector Chumpitaz.
Peru’s World Cup qualifying campaigns seemed to be filled with bad luck as in a number of occasions Peru failed to qualify for the next eight World Cups.
Mexico 1986: v Argentina ended in a 2-2 sending Argentina to World Cup
- Play-off v Chile: lost (A) 4-2 and lost (H) 1-0
Italy 1990: All single games were lost against Uruguay and Bolivia
- two goals scored (Jose Del Solar and Andres Gonzalez
- Best player: Julio Cesar Uribe
France 1998: Settled on goal difference with Chile
- A game versus Chile which turned out to be humiliating as Peru needed to maintain fourth position as Chilean fans turned aggressive against the Peruvian team.
Korea/Japan 2002: Finished 8th
- Four wins from 18 matches
- Scored 14 goals
Germany 2006: Marred by internal conflicts within the management. Poor results left coaches with problems with the Peruvian Football Association (FPF)
South Africa 2010: More drama followed the Peruvian National Team and controversy grew between the FPF and the Peruvian Institute of Sport and players.
- Jaime Bayly
- Claudio Pizzaro
- Jerfferson Farfan
- Andres Mendoza
- Santiago Acasiete
were all caught partying during concentration and were banned from being selected to play qualifiers by then coach Solar.
- The team did not qualify for South Africa being eliminated in 14 position.
Brazil 2014: Peru’s run to Brazil World Cup started as the last campaign ended with poor results.
- Peru won four of their 16 World Cup qualifying matches.
Peru have one foot on the plane to Russia
However, Peru today are 180 minutes away from deleting all their horrendous history of qualifiers as they are two games away from reverting history:
Peru’s final two CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying matches against Argentina (A) and Colombia (H) are all that stands between Peru embarking to Russia 2018. This national today has reversed all that was ever possible quietly creeping up the CONMEBOL standings. They now look down on Argentina and look down on Chile. This team is filled with stars who alone even without World Cup appearances have made a name for themselves overseas flying the Peruvian flag high and proud.
Tapia, Carillo, Cueva, Yotun, Farfan, Claudio Pizzaro and Paolo Guerrero to name a few are all reeling at the reality of just how close their dreams are to coming true.
This generation drilled by Ricardo Gareca has allowed them to play free-flowing football and deadly counter-attacks. Upsets are meant to happen in football, that is what makes the world game the best sport in the world. However, Peru have never been underdogs throughout the qualifying process. Gareca’s men have always been seen and have had the belief to qualify and now the world is seeing it. Who cares if Chile or Argentina make it or don’t. The biggest fairy-tale story will be Peru’s and only Peru’s.
Its been 35 years. They deserve it. Peruvians from generations old and today have waited enough, have been through enough heart-break as this is their moment to dream.