World Cup 2018: The incredible sacrifices of Peru’s dedicated fans

Some Peru fans have sold cars and given up their jobs to get to the World cup in Russia
2018 Fifa World Cup: France v Peru
Venue: Central Stadium Date: Thursday, 21 June Time: 16:00 BST
Live: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live; text commentary on the BBC Sport website

The incredible Peru fans. Some have given up their jobs, sold their cars, or borrowed money from the bank to follow their team all the way to Russia.

Whole families are here – elderly supporters have made epic journeys alongside their grandchildren to share a first appearance at a World Cup since 1982 with them.

It has been impossible to resist their colour, warmth and humour.

For me, it all started in their opening game against Denmark in Saransk on Saturday.

As Christian Cueva ran up to take their first-half penalty, one man wearing a pair of giant plastic ears leaned over railings by the side of the pitch, as far as he could to be that little bit closer. A moment 36 years in the making was surely about to arrive.

Cueva fired over the bar. The man’s arms stretched forward, wide and low in a gesture of great pain. The plastic ears almost slipped off the front of his head.

“He needed a cool mind in a hot situation,” Peru fan Edgar told me the next day, grabbing my arm and planting his feet hard into the ground as if to emphasise his point.

“It was the moment – but no matter, we’ve got two matches left and we’re going to win.”

Cueva fires over the bar after Peru awarded penalty by VAR

Edgar is with Manuelito, who is 80 years old and arrived in Saransk via three flights and a 10-hour night train.

Having practically lost his voice, he says softly: “The journey was brutal for me but how could I miss this?

“We have waited so long, I have waited so long, to sing our songs in another country once again.”

Manuelito (third left) and friends relax in the shade, the day after Peru’s defeat by Denmark

Peru lost their opening game 1-0 of course, the result cruel on a team whose fans have already made such an impact in Russia. So many have sacrificed so much to be here that it would be even more cruel to suffer an early exit. They play France next, on Thursday (16:00 BST kick-off).

Pedro, aka Perrito, left his job in Panama to come here and share the experience with his friend Alexis – confusingly also known as Perrito – taking all the money he had and stretching it over a two-month journey following the cheapest option every time.

The flight to Madrid was the biggest chunk, and since then he has been sleeping on sofas, sharing cars, blagging his way onto boats in Finland, doing everything he can to be here. He thinks it could take him another two months getting back. He just can’t afford the flight.

Alexis tells me about one guy he met in Saransk who had cycled from Italy. “It’s love,” Pedro says. He will have found a way to Yekaterinburg for Thursday – somehow.

There are entire families stretching across three generations here. Some can afford it, others cannot. There are stories of people who have sold their cars, remortgaged their homes or taken out bank loans to cover the cost. Edgar tells me about his friend in Los Angeles who couldn’t get time off work so quit and will now be moving back home to Lima.

People are changing their whole lives for this and the Russians – like so many others – have been blown away by the Peruvian spirit and generosity.

Pedro (left) and Alexis (right) at the Denmark game. The ears are in homage to winger Edison Flores

Manuelito is sitting in the shade wearing his Peru cap and dark sunglasses as local mothers launch their teenage daughters into group photos with the men and women around him. They have all travelled halfway around the world and have brought so much with them – songs, smiles, dances.

Everyone you ask about the Peru fans says the same thing, but one local volunteer in Saranask said it best.

“They’ve been wonderful. So happy,” Nina says. “After the match they were sad. It was really bitter for them what happened, but all the same there is such energy and warmth all the time. This is something very special. For me, it’s simply extraordinary.”

While we are talking, Pedro comes over and pins a red-and-white fabric badge on another volunteer’s sash and she wheels away in glee. “A small gesture that doesn’t cost a lot but is worth so much,” he says.

Even Toni and his wife Tiffany, both Denmark fans, have nothing but good things to say. Toni bemoans how few Danish people have decided to come. “The Peruvians have shown what football is really about,” he says.

A security guard tells me: “Not a single problem.”

World Cup 2018: Peru 0-1 Denmark highlights

As for those back home, reaction to the penalty decision triggered a seismic activity alert in the Lima area. The same thing had happened in November when Peru beat New Zealand in a play-off to qualify.

Perhaps the occasion got to the players in their opening game. Cueva was in tears after hitting his spot-kick over the bar – he had to be lifted to his feet and helped off the pitch at half-time.

But they still have a chance – a decent one at that. France were not exactly convincing in their opening game, a narrow 2-1 victory over Australia.

And this World Cup has already thrown up a few shock results. On Tuesday, there were huge cheers from the Peru fans watching Mexico beat world champions Germany against the odds – finally a goal to celebrate.

They, and so many of their new friends, will be hoping it won’t be the only one.

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