36 Years Later, Peru Back in the World Cup

Jose Guerrero Coronado, Staff Reporter

A nine year-old Carlos Vargas watched Peru qualify for the 1982 World Cup from his grandma’s house in Arequipa, Peru. “I still remember that moment, there was a lot of excitement and hope in the country for the team,” Vargas said. Professor Vargas is now a professor of theatre and fiction in the Spanish department at Whitman.

After the 1982 World Cup, the Peruvian soccer team did not qualify for the next eight tournaments. The team was labeled as a failure and a scam, almost no one in Peru considered the squad capable of achieving any significant accomplishment. That was until this past fall when they qualified for the World Cup in Russia and ended the streak. Finally, after 35 years, Professor Vargas regained the excitement he had as a child for the Peru national team.

Illustration by Haley King

The team had had chances of going to the World Cup before, but last minute catastrophes prevented Peru from attending. In 1985, a last minute goal from Argentinian striker Ricardo Gareca eliminated Peru in the qualifiers for the 1986 tournament. In 1997 the team needed a tie against Chile to qualify for the World Cup in France, and they ended up losing 4-0. “After the elimination of Peru in 1997 Peruvians gave up on the national team, we just did not believe this was getting better,” Vargas said.

Professor Carlos Vargas came to the United States in 2005 to complete his graduate studies. At that time Peruvian soccer and politics where passing through a crisis. “By 2005 the team was already considered a failure. People were convinced that it was impossible to see the team again in a World Cup and jokes about the team became popular,” Vargas said.

In 2015 things changed for the Peruvian team with the arrival of coach Ricardo Gareca. Yes, the same man that scored the goal that eliminated Peru in 1985 now had the task of taking them to Russia. “Gareca knew the players since he coached Peruvian teams, he knew Peruvian idiosyncrasy and culture. He changed their mindset and made them more professional,” Vargas said.

The team had a shaky beginning but finished with strong performances in the last matches of the qualifiers. In a dramatic ending the Peruvian team scored a last minute goal against Colombia that took them to the playoffs round. In the playoff round they beat New Zealand in a full Lima stadium. “The player that eliminated Peru years ago, now takes them to the WC and pays his debt. You would think this was scripted,” Vargas said.

Madness and craziness took Peru by storm. People paid bets and celebrated on the streets across the country. The government canceled classes the day following the victory. There were people running naked on the streets, chanting on the top of cars and waiving giant flags. After a bunch of deceptions the team gave Peru one of its most happy moments in history. “The Peruvians are really pessimists, we think that all we do will always go wrong. This victory proved that it is not always like that, sometimes things can be done right,” Vargas said.

Peru is currently passing through a political crisis involving the president and his cabinet in a corruption scandal. From his house in Walla Walla, Carlos believes that the qualification of Peru will not bring a major social change, but it brings a positive message of unity. “Soccer is more than a sport, it is a country’s pride, it unites us. Peruvians have very few things in common. In Peru whether you are indigenous, white, black, Asian, rich or poor, when the Peruvian team plays, everyone wears the same shirt,” Vargas said.