Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Travellers Tales - Cusco, Perú

Bienvenidos a Cusco, Bienvenidos a Perú.

    Welcome also to the tourist trail, the land of Machu Picchu and gringos, where tourism is very much the main industry in town. As I wrote last time, I am on holiday, travelling overland across Andean South America. But I am still on the look out for the World Cup (or Mundial, as it is very much known in these parts). And it has not been very hard to spot here, even in a country that has played no part in the finals since 1982.

    South Americans love Fútbol, it is their first love and national sport, and it dominates television and newspapers like little else. Currently Perú is a fairly strife-ridden place. Lima is dominated by police barricades, allowing tourists (and their vital US Dollars) into the central areas, but keeping the locals out. Life is not quite as bad as it was in the 1970s when fascist Juntas ran death squads all over this beautiful continent, but there is still an undercurrent, an idea that the military and their tanks are not too far away. People here live incredibly hard, difficult lives. Many spend each day just trying to survive in dignity, and they know as well as everyone else that Western globalisation is never going to improve their lives.

    Central Lima and the suburb of Miraflores give a very respectable impression of European sophistication, but even here - just under the surface - poverty, repression and alienation run deep. For all the Italianate or Spanish- Peruvians strutting their stuff in Gucci and Armani in Central Lima there are several million more in Callao and the countryside living hand to mouth. Life is hard, and it is barely getting better. And the people here do not even have Fútbol to keep them happy.

    At least they do not have a successful national team anymore. Alianza Lima and Sporting Cristal still have millions of fans across this country, but long gone are the glory days of Quiroga, Chumpitaz, Sotil, Muñante and Cubillas. This group of players last made an impact over 20 years ago now, yet as I have travelled around Perú it is this team that is mentioned whenever the World Cup is brought up. As an Englishman, coming from a country that has barely even played Perú, it is sometimes hard to have any feelings about this team. That is of course until you talk about the game that every Peruvian wants to talk about to people from Britain.

    On June 3 1978, Perú met Scotland in their opening World Cup matches up in the Andean foothills of Cordoba. Scotland had left the UK very expectant. Just four years before they had comfortably held mighty Brasil and had only been eliminated on goal difference, undefeated. In the four years since a new generation of players led by King Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness had emerged to replace Denis Law and Billy Bremner. They had eliminated the current European Champions Czechoslovakia in qualifying. Even better, they were in the ascendancy over England, and were at the World Cup when the Auld Enemy wasn't.

    Big things were expected in Argentina. Every Scotsman tried to make the trip to the other side of the world, flying, sailing and hitchhiking the thousands of miles to the Andes. It was also the birth of the replica shirt, and when groups of fat, sweaty, beer swilling Scotsmen started to arrive in South America, many locals thought that these "athletes" in their Scotland shirts were the real team! Instead, the real Scottish team was triumphantly circling Hampden Park on the back of trucks, certain that they were on the march with Ally's Army all the way to the World Cup Final. In particular, Scotland were confident of beating Perú, that "ageing" team that had played well in 1970, but was surely not as good as Bruce Rioch and Don Masson?

    Perú had been a force in 1970, going to the quarterfinals, where they lost to Brasil. Cubillas had been the star of the tournament for Perú, and his five goals placed him third in the Golden Boot race, behind only Gerd Muller and Jairzinho. But that was eight years ago, and just like everyone else he was much older. However, Perú had one big advantage over the Scots - altitude.

    One of the things you notice about Perú is its altitude. Upon arrival in Cusco I suffered from a shortage of breath just like almost everyone who comes here. But for many Peruvians this is just a fact of life, something else to conquer like poverty or the near tropical summer heat. And in Cordoba, in the foothills on the other side of the Andes, altitude would make a big difference.

    For someone coming from the low-lying mid-latitudes like myself or the 1978 Scottish team, it is always going to be difficult to perform athletically in the same way you could in Britain or Europe - no matter how much acclimatisation you have.

    In fact, the Scottish camp was in disarray, arguing over money and who controlled the team. Ally MacLeod, their hapless manager, was just lucky to be there, having to win only four games to get to Argentina. Even then he had to rely on a Joe Jordan handball to see off Wales at Anfield. He struggled to understand tactics and man-management. But he talked a great game, and seemed to truly believe Scotland would win the World Cup. And it was all over and done with after 76 minutes.

    Scotland actually scored first, through Jordan, but the game is remembered for Cubillas. He demolished the Scots, embarrassing Alan Rough in the Scottish goal, and creating the myth of failure that surrounds Scotland still to this day. Of course, Scotland went on to beat Holland, and Archie Gemmill scored that wonder goal, but after the shock of the Cubillas thunderbolt, Scotland were all but out.

    Perú went on to the second group stage, were they infamously accepted an Argentinian bribe to let in six goals. That has tarnished the reputation of this team, and utter Peruvian failure since has only compounded matters. Outside the Estadio Nacional today there is still evidence of past success with plaques high on the wall speaking proudly of victory. But on the streets it is Argentinian and Brazilian shirts that fill the stalls. Even in the local markets you cannot find a Perú shirt, with its famous red stripe, at all. It seems that the world has forgotten Perú, and that although everyone still watches the World Cup it is to see Ronaldo or Beckham and not the new Chumpitaz or Cubillas.

    Times have changed, and for a country that is very much in the third division of world football, Perú have a long way to get back. I for one hope they do it.



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