If you saw the way their fans reacted, you would have no idea that Peru had nothing to play for.
Peru beat Australia, 2-0, on Tuesday, but the match for them was purely for pride — after falling in their first two games to Denmark and France, they had no way to advance out of the group stage.
The game was, from a competitive standpoint, meaningless for Peru. They could disrupt Australia’s chances, but had no hope for anything for themselves. Yet when André Carrillo put his right foot through the ball and sent it rocketing into the Australia net, you would have thought the goal sent Peru through to the final. Peruvian fans, packing the stadium, erupted. Tears were shed.
The goal wouldn’t advance Peru, but it was the first goal the country had scored at the World Cup in 36 years. And the Peruvian fans were going to celebrate that.
On Telemundo, Peruvian announcer Sammy Sadovnik could barely contain his emotion.
#MundialTelemundo ¡Una belleza de gol! El tanto de @18andrecarrillo que tiene al frente de #PER sobre #AUS en voz de @sadovnik1965 pic.twitter.com/Q0piox2Gsp— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) June 26, 2018
In the second half, it was 34-year-old captain Paolo Guerrero who scored the second, effectively ending Australia’s World Cup, and giving himself a perfect sendoff in what will most likely be his final World Cup appearance.
Fans again embraced and cheered. They would have been forgiven for not even showing up to the match — what were Peru playing for, after all? Yet they were there, as loud as any fanbase we’ve seen so far.
#MundialTelemundo ¡Pensaron que no iba a suceder! El llanto de la afición de #PER tras el gol de @18andrecarrillo pic.twitter.com/3HHY2zdIQR— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) June 26, 2018
Peru’s pride and fight were made all the more admirable as they stood in stark contrast to the other match, in which Denmark and France took turns passing around in a 0-0 draw we should all be filing a class-action lawsuit against. Those two teams actually had something to play for — a first- or second-place finish in the group. But it was Peru, playing merely for pride, who actually showed fight. They were the ones who charged forward.
Sure, you can say that Denmark and France were smart, and cautious, and happy to merely advance. But for a France team trying to find its bite after looking so pedestrian in the opening games, and a Denmark team that could actually win the group (and had nothing to fear with Australia trailing), why not go for it? Why not, you know, try to play soccer?
Instead we were just left with Peru to cheer for.
Peru’s failure to advance was another cruel reminder of how tournament soccer can punish teams that want to play beautiful, attacking soccer, as Peru had done all tournament. They and Morocco both stood out in the early going as two teams who were determined to possess the ball, create chances, and play the game beautifully.
Both are out. Such is life.
My favorite moment of the match actually came after the final whistle, when the cameras cut to Peru’s Christian Cueva. He was in tears.
Yes, Peru had won. But his team’s World Cup was over. Haunting for Cueva was the fact he had missed a penalty kick in the opener against Denmark ... a miss that had doomed them before they had a chance to find their game against Australia.
He was beside himself, but his teammates quickly surrounded him. Guerrero held him in an embrace. Other teammates gathered, taking turns telling jokes to cheer him up. Cueva eventually let a smile crack through the tears. Then he and his teammates walked off together, and they held their heads high. On the day so far — along with Australia, who showed fight in a losing effort — they’re the only team that can actually do so.