Of Soccer and Nations

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The first time I went to see the Peruvian National Soccer Team play was on November 16, 1997. I was ten years old and my father took me to the Estadio Nacional of Lima to see Peru play Paraguay on their last qualifying game for the 1998 France World cup. I remember the joy I experienced being surrounded by thousands of my compatriots covered in white and red, and the general excitement to see our national team play. I also remember the conversation the two men behind us in line had as we walked into the stadium:

“Peru wins today, and Chile loses,” one of them euphorically yelled. The other responded with a distinctive Peruvian humor, “Si, compadre, or Chile wins but we beat Paraguay 18-0.”

They both laughed as they accepted what everyone else knew; that even though those had been the best qualifying games for Peru since we last qualified to the World Cup in 1982 and we were close to qualifying, we needed not only to beat Paraguay, but also for Chile to not beat Bolivia in Santiago – or, if Chile won, to score 16 more goals than them in that last game; both situations nearly impossible.

As most initiation stories, and as most love stories as well, this first episode marked my future with my beloved Peruvian national soccer team. After that day it became more clear that being a Peruvian National soccer team fan is difficult, and most often than not we depend not only in our results, but on many other circumstances too. It is undeniable that for Peruvians the rosary and calculator are part of our soccer gear, and praying and making hypothetical numbers meet go hand in hand with scoring goals. The Peruvian soccer team is in most games the average Peruvian citizen blaming the traffic for being late to work, and trying to make the bills at the end of the month.

But what is worse than being a fan of Peru’s National soccer team is to be a fan of Peru’s National soccer team and live outside of Peru. As many expats could confirm, distance has a special influence on how we feel about our home countries. When one is living abroad it becomes harder to not feel more connected with our roots. Distance, in many cases, eliminates the bad memories and exposes the things we love and miss of our far homelands. Therefore, when we watch Peru’s soccer team play pretty, even if only for a few minutes, we think of the historic Peruvian soccer talent of the past we have heard so much about – or we think of how delicious our food is, how great our waves are, how tasty a Pisco Sour can be, and of the many things we miss from our country. But if we play badly, we try to not think of our chaotic traffic, of the increasing crime, of the little organization our soccer league has, and instead we take out the rosary and calculator.

That is how this past Tuesday found us Peruvian soccer fans: Ninth out of the ten teams in the qualification, nearly eliminated early from the World Cup after losing in La Paz, and about to play a strong Ecuadorian team that has had a great first round in this qualifying; and it found me away from Peru, but with the same hopes as the ten-year-old kid going to the stadium for the first time. And of course, because in soccer sometimes one must run in circles, Peru won and is not yet disqualified, and even better it won with a young team which leaves some hope for the future. While the more rational soccer voices may tell us that Peru still won’t qualify, that one game does not change much, and that we still are way behind other teams, we can celebrate the victory. Of course we can, and if we don’t qualify there will be another World Cup, and the rosary and the calculator will also be there. After all, one does not decide where to be born.

_Alonso Rodriguez Romero was born in Lima, Peru, but has lived in the U.S. since he was fifteen years old. He is a graduate from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors in English, with a concentration on Creative Writing. He can be contacted by email, alonsorodriguezromero10@gmail.com._What’s even more difficult than being a fan of the Peruvian National soccer team? To be a fan and live outside of Peru.

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