Tuesday 20 November 2018

Peruvian hordes prepare to turn up the volume on return to big arena

And the mood has only improved since Paolo Guerrero, the nation’s all-time leading scorer, was given leave to play in the tournament Photo: Reuters
And the mood has only improved since Paolo Guerrero, the nation’s all-time leading scorer, was given leave to play in the tournament Photo: Reuters

Jim White

One thing we can be sure of when Denmark play Peru in Saransk this afternoon: the Mordovia Arena is going to be noisy. Very noisy.

Few fans have embraced this World Cup with the gusto of the Peruvians.

Between them their supporters have bought 43,583 match tickets, compared to 32,362 picked up by England fans. More than 15,000 have travelled from South America on packages that cost more than 40 times the average monthly wage, changing planes as many as five times to land in the middle of Russia.

Visitors to Saransk's fan park during Thursday's opening game would have been forgiven for thinking it was Peru rather than Russia involved, given how the place thrummed with red-and-white clad supporters banging their drums in an extended chantathon.

Such is the urge amongst Peruvians to be at the tournament, one fan named Miguel, on discovering that the only tickets left were in the disabled section, piled on 50 pounds in three months in order to qualify as morbidly obese. According to Spanish radio reports, he wobbled into Moscow on Thursday.

The collective enthusiasm is a reflection of the country's extended leave of absence from the tournament: this has been a long time coming. For a decade no schoolboy's Subbuteo collection was complete without the most distinctive kit in world football; the 1970, '78 and '82 World Cups were graced by the shirt with the red sash. But after that trio of appearances there was nothing, 32 years of failure to make their way out of the South America qualifying round, three decades of watching from a distance.

So, when the team made it to Russia back in November, the country was swept by a tidal wave of anticipation.

President Pedro Kuczynski declared a national holiday (then promptly resigned after being subject to corruption charges). And the mood has only improved since Paolo Guerrero, the nation's all-time leading scorer, was given leave to play in the tournament despite testing positive for cocaine metabolites (he successfully argued he had accidentally consumed the drug in a cup of traditional Peruvian tea).

Guerrero will be paired with the 33-year-old Jefferson Farfan in the most grizzled attacking combination in the tournament. A fearsome, heavily tattooed partnership, they have known each other since childhood in the Lima slums. But the coach Ricardo Gareca, an Argentine who sports the same wild man of rock look as Wycombe's Gareth Ainsworth, has more at his disposal than that ferocious pair. His midfield is constructed around Christian Cueva, an archetypical old-school South American attacking midfielder: short, squat and with a fiery streak in his tackling. He creates the ammunition for the ageing front men to fire.

And behind him is Gareca's most significant asset, Renato Tapia, Feyenoord's young defensive midfielder, who did a remarkable man-marking job on Lionel Messi during a goalless draw with Argentina in the qualifying tournament.

In the build-up to Russia, Gareca's side beat Croatia, Scotland and Iceland, a run of success which has done little to reduce the optimism in the Andes.

Not only has the team made it to the finals, there is a gathering expectation that they might actually do something, with the quarter-finals a plausible ambition.

If they are to perform to such heights, it would represent a significant revival from extended collective dismay.

Ahead of the match in Saransk, we can expect one line from the Peruvian national anthem to be belted out with particular meaning: "The humiliated neck is rising." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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