Today's picks

    Heard the one about the Peru fan who put on 24kg to get a World Cup ticket?

    from selling cars, quitting work and making 64-hour round trips across the biggest nation on the planet, Peru supporters are going to extraordinary lengths to watch their country in its first World Cupfinals for 36 years, but there is one particular story that will take some beating when it comes to their invasion of Russia.
    “There was a guy who was worried he wouldn’t get a ticket for a Peru match, so he said he would try to put on 24kg so that he could apply for one of the special [easy-access extra-width] seats that are much easier to get,” says Guillermo Espinoza, an English teacher from Lima. “You get a good view as well from those seats.”
    It is a remarkable tale that illustrates just how much this World Cup means to the people of Peru, who have travelled in such huge numbers to Russia, taking over whole streets everywhere from Moscow to Saransk, where the team face Denmark in their opening game on Saturday, proudly wearing those distinctive white shirts with the red sash.
    “Some have come here on a €1,000 budget, they’re eating cookies in the day to get by, sleeping on floors and are taking a 32-hour train to Ekaterinburg – because it’s free – to watch the France game,” says Espinoza. “There are people who have left their job because you get paid extra money when you leave somewhere you’ve been a long time. A lot of others held what we call a pollada, which involves cooking chicken and providing beer at home in exchange for money.”
    That tradition in Peru more commonly takes place because someone needs emergency funds, say for medical or educational purposes, although many supporters would argue that watching their team in a first World Cup finals since 1982 comes into the same category. “I was only two years old then, so this is a big opportunity for me,” says Rodrigo Verastegui, who plays the drum in the stadium at Peru home matches. “I’m here with my father, my mother and my wife and I’ve even brought my four-year-old son, because I don’t know if Peru will get to another World Cup.”
    This week, Fifa revealed that 43,583 tickets were sold in Peru, making them officially the eighth‑best supported country at the World Cup, although Espinoza estimates that almost double that number of fans have travelled to Russia. “I think 80,000 Peruvians are here, because there are a lot of Peruvian people who don’t have Peruvian passports who have come from other countries in Europe. A lot emigrated during the 1980s and the beginning of the nineties because of the economical situation and terrorism in the country.”
    Football has a huge following in Peru and the country is expected to come to a standstill during the Denmark match. It was reported that an incredible 687,000 people applied for tickets for the second leg of the World Cup play-off against New Zealand in November, which the team won 2-0 in Lima to spark wild scenes at the final whistle.
    “Every World Cup that we haven’t qualified for we have suffered, because we are very passionate about football,” says Angel Carranea, a fan from Lima. “That’s why now, after 36 years, we are crazy about it. I sold my car to be here. I had a Mustang GT and I got rid of it because this is a once in a lifetime experience.”
    Although the supporters are revelling in their long overdue return to football’s biggest party, especially as they pipped Chile, their bitter rivals, to the play-off place in a dramatic South American qualification campaign, they are not here for a holiday and there is optimism that Ricardo Gareca’s side, unbeaten in 15 matches, can reach the knockout stage.
    The biggest challenge, however, could be keeping emotions under control in the stands. “What you are going to see for sure at the moment of the national anthem is that 50% of us will be crying,” Espinoza says.
    “I have a friend who is really worried about that because he has a heart condition, so his wife says he has been getting ready for the national anthem by taking medication.”

    Related Articles