I know, I know. Football isn’t the most interesting subject to read about in a blog post. Not really as important as politics and/or social issues and not nearly as interesting as cultural pieces and/or funny stories. Even I don’t like to talk seriously about football.
Yet after what happened this week, I can’t think about anything else and can’t remember the last time I was this happy.
Because Peru is in the World Cup! We are in the World Cup!
If you’re English (and qualify to the World Cup every four years) or don’t care about football at all, then you probably don’t quite understand what I’m feeling and probably think I’m a bit over the top over a World Cup qualification. Let me try to explain it.
Imagine achieving that one thing that you always wanted. The one thing that you have cherished for years but looked like it would never come true. That one thing that isn’t really important for a lot of people but means the world to you.
For me, that was reaching the World Cup.
Since I was a kid, my whole life has been related to football. I grew up kicking a ball and watching it on the TV, and although I never quite identified myself with a specific team I watched almost every single game played on the weekends. It was amazing but it couldn’t really compete with the international break, where I got to support my country, Peru.
It was something special. Every couple of months a politically, socially and even economically divided country would rally together behind one team and until this day, I have never seen anything else unite my country like football does. Not even music or other sports, just football. And we had one obsession: getting back to the World Cup.
In 1982, my father was thirteen years old. That was the last time we were in the World Cup. 35 years ago. We were close a couple of times, the last one in 1998 (the year I was born in), but it didn’t happen for us. Frustration started to take over and after that heartbreak, the national team collapsed. We had three forgettable qualifiers and finally took the spot as the worst team in South America. At this point, people started to give up and quite honestly, I couldn’t blame them. Most of the time it didn’t look as if it was going to get any better.
Some of us kept supporting them, suffering in every defeat (which we had plenty of) and erupting in ecstasy in those few wins. It was love, love for the team. We understood that we would probably not going to make in the next 10-15 years but were still behind them. That is -perhaps- what makes everything so special now.
I could tell you the amazing story about how we came back from being practically eliminated to booking a ticket to Russia. Or I could tell you about Ricardo Gareca and those 23 amazing players who made me as happy as I am right now.
But I still can’t believe what happened on that warm Wednesday night in Lima. When we defeated New Zealand and finally qualified to the World Cup.
We finally made it. We are in the World Cup.
And we have been waiting our wholes lives to say this. I have been waiting my whole life to say this. I can’t help shedding a tear, every time I think about it, after so many years of frustration, so many years of crying in front of a screen, so many years of thinking “this has to get better at some point”.
It finally did.
And I know qualifying to the World Cup isn’t going to solve any of Peru’s major problems. It’s not going to reduce poverty, it’s not going to eradicate corruption, it’s not going to eradicate violence.
Yet for one night, most of the country came together one more time to celebrate something that we didn’t think was going to happen for a long time. And for that one night, nothing else mattered.