Sports

Everyone Should Root for Peru in the World Cup

Paolo Guerrero
Paolo Guerrero.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Claudio Santana/LatinContent/Getty Images.

On that dreadful October night when everything went wrong for the U.S. men’s national soccer team, absolutely everything went right for Peru. By a literal tip of a finger, La Blanquirroja snuck into a playoff match against New Zealand. A month later, Peru’s first goal against the Kiwis sent the stadium in Lima into a seismic frenzy—no, seriously. When Peru won, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who has since resigned in scandal (NEVER MIND THAT), called for a national holiday. Peru, as of this very moment, is riding a 15-game unbeaten streak into this weekend, when the national team will play its first game on soccer’s biggest stage since 1982.

The World Cup is a time to be irrational. To choose a country because it has the dopest jersey (Nigeria) or because you like to clap your hands and grunt loudly (Iceland). But what if I told you there was a team where you can have it all? The jersey, the chants, the story, the characters, everything. Allow me to sell you on the best World Cup experience of 2018.

The red and white jerseys of the Peruvian national team are a callback to a golden era. They’re simple yet striking, elegant yet bold. The stripe that runs from the left shoulder to the right hip commands presidential attention because the president literally wears it. Roger Bennett of the great Men in Blazers said it best when he ranked the Peruvian kit as the best World Cup jersey of all time: “[If] soccer were scored like figure skating, and points were factored in for style, Peru would, without a doubt, have instantly been hailed as world champion.”

So yes, we have style, but we also have earthquake-inducing fans who travel from country to country with drums laced around their necks. Back in October, thousands of supporters braved some not-insignificant risk when they marched into La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, where Argentinian officials had moved the match for an extra home-field advantage, knowing full well that visiting players had been attacked with tear gas there in the past. Peru came out of that game with a crucial tie and no tears to be found.

Another critical factor in selecting your rooting interest is the national anthem. I promise you will not find a more beautiful, poetic, and poignant hymn to sing along with during this World Cup.

But what good is all of this without the story? And the story of Peruvian futbol is one of Machu Picchu–level highs and sewer-level lows. During the 1970s, the Peruvian men’s national team was lauded for having the strongest midfield in the world, allowing them to qualify for World Cups in 1970, 1978, and 1982. Then, a cold streak, one painfully similar to the abject horror of watching the Houston Rockets miss 27 straight 3-pointers in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals.

I’ve heard from my fellow Peruvian brethren that the equivalent of “when pigs fly” in Peru during this dark time was “cuando Perú califica para El Mundial”: “when Peru qualifies for the World Cup.”

And now, after 36 years of mediocrity, they have. And they did it this year with a group of scrappy, young players from local leagues and the country’s all-time leading goal scorer, 34-year-old forward Paolo Guerrero. Peru needed an extraordinary amount of luck to end up in Russia—thanks for fielding an ineligible player, Bolivia!—and that streak of good fortune continued after Guerrero was ruled eligible to play in the tournament despite testing positive for cocaine metabolites. Guerrero’s suspension was recently overturned after he argued successfully that he’d consumed the metabolite in medicinal Peruvian tea.

With Peru, you may not see the pretty tiki-taka football of the Spaniards, but you will see a bunch of 5-foot-10-inch players run, defend, and counter as if the sovereignty of their country depends on it. After having been drawn into a group with France, Peru will likely be playing for second place. But second place means a spot in the knockout round, and Denmark and Australia are beatable opponents. And once La Blanquirroja makes it to the round of 16, anything can happen.

Your friends will pick the favorites (Brazil, Germany, France, Spain). Your annoying friends will root for the darling underdogs (Argentina, Belgium). So why not cheer alongside me for a middling country where the chants never stop, the beer flows aplenty, and the story is still being written.

I ask of you, my fellow Americans, to share in my irrationality. Look up at the stars with me. Pigs are flying. Peru is in the World Cup.

Want to pitch Slate?

Every year, Slate Plus members participate in the Slate Pitch Slam—where members discuss their story ideas with our editors and each other. It’s a chance for members to interact with Slate’s editors, to refine their pitches, and to vote for their favorite ideas—and a way for us to learn about Slate Plus members.

Join Slate Plus today for just $35 for your first year and start weighing in.

Enter the Pitch Slam