Football-mad Peru weeps with joy
The All Whites' despair was Peru's joy, as Simon Hampton reports.
Every now and then in life you come across a moment where it seems no superlative can do the situation justice. Lima was one such occasion.
Tension, excitement, passion. Blended together in this beautiful melting pot of emotion that's been brewing for 35 years.
Even before daylight it was clear to see just what was at stake for Peru. Outside the All Whites hotel, a prolonged explosion of fireworks broke the still night, and likely broke the sleep patterns of the New Zealand footballers inside. The All Whites were never meant to feel comfortable in Lima. It was nothing personal, of course, the stakes were just so much higher for the football mad nation of 30 million. The Peruvian people were more hospitable than hostile. Every meeting of a Kiwi and Peruvian in the lead up to the match was one full of smiles, although it always ended with the Peruvian offering some variance of "we will win".
As dawn broke on game day, the city was a sea of white and red. Any form of work uniform went out the window; today's uniform - anything Peru. And it wasn't hard to blend into the crowd. Streets throughout Lima were lined with people selling shirts, scarves, hats, and just about anything in Peruvian colors. it was almost frowned upon to wear anything else. The burst of color and cacophony of sounds combined to create a brilliant atmosphere.
"Vamos Peru", they cried as they pounded their drums throughout the day.
Some had never seen a day like this, many had waited far too long. As the gates to the Estadio Nacional swung open, thousands of fans flocked in wanting to make sure they were in the stadium for every minute possible. Once inside, they made sure to make the most of every minute. Some three hours before kickoff, chest pounding anthems boomed around the stadium. As the first All Whites eventually made their way out for warm ups, they were greeted by piercing whistling from the Peruvian faithful. They'd got a taste of enemy territory throughout the week, but now they were in the cauldron. The slightly wordier chants were managed by the north and south ends of the stadium, where two of Lima's rival football clubs were each trying to out-sing each other. But when the basic chants of "Peru, Peru, Peru" went up, there wasn't a Peruvian in the crowd who wasn't belting out their country's name.
It's easy to simply belt out chants when there's no action on the pitch, and when the match began, the emotional rollercoaster swung into motion.
They cried their innocence when Kosta Barbarouses was brought down in the box in the first minute. They leapt up in anguish when Peru hit the crossbar minutes later. And they berated the ref when Winston Reid appeared to handle the ball in the penalty area. And on they went, living this match through every touch. When Jefferson Farfan put the Peruvians in front, it was like a pressure valve was lifted, an outpouring of raw emotion erupted in Estadio Nacional as the crowd saw their side take a big step towards Russia 2018.
But as the All Whites clawed their way back into the match, the fans gnawed at their fingernails as the nerves returned. Chris Wood's introduction brought a new focal point to the New Zealand attack, and at 1-0 the All Whites were just a goal away from taking the advantage in the tie. With the crowd on tenterhooks, some sloppy set piece defending from the All Whites gave Peru the second and once again the crowd erupted. This time though they felt they had enough to see themselves home. People screamed and shouted as if no one was watching, commentators shed tears and fans hugged and kissed one another as a spot at the World Cup loomed.
Full-time brought it's own outpouring of emotion, fans leapt the fences, evading riot police to celebrate on the pitch with the players, while in the stands it was pandemonium. The sort of raw emotion you might expect when someone wins the lottery, except in this case, 50,000 people had just won the lottery. Peru were well prepared for this moment. No one in the crowd left as the lights dimmed and a celebratory concert began on the Estadio Nacional turf. Outside the stadium, on Calle Jose Diaz, fans unlucky not to have a ticket danced and chanted to their hearts content, letting off flares and setting off the biggest party Peru has ever seen.
Andrew Durante insisted after the match that everything that was thrown at them both on and off the field did not affect them.
"They used every trick in the book to try and put us off. We knew what we were going to be in for. We had a strong mindset that we wouldn't let any of that affect us," he said.
For the coach, though, it was a different story. With the match, and possibly his All Whites managerial career finished, Anthony Hudson dropped the staunch mentality.
"I think it's been really poor, we got on the airplane and asked the stewardess how long until Peru, and she said we're not going to Peru we're going to Chile!" The now off contract Hudson said, referring to the All Whites charter plane which was forced to make a short notice stop in Chile en route from Buenos Aires to Lima.
"Ever since then, it's been unbelievable. We didn't sleep at all last night with the fireworks. Today I thought I'd grab a quick hour's sleep by the pool and then all of a sudden these jet fighter planes are flying past and the pilots are taking selfies with their Peru shirts on."
As the All Whites team bus departed Estadio Nacional, the hoards of Peruvian fans clapped and waved goodbye to the team they believe they'd helped conquer. Some All Whites waved back, some pulled the curtains as they sat and pondered their crushed World Cup dreams, while on the streets Peru begun to live theirs.