He's the Magic Man
The last time Mexico played a tournament in Argentina, the Tri were embarrassed out of the country with a 3 and out and a -10 goal differential. This year’s edition of the Copa America saw Mexico crash out winless again, albeit under completely different circumstances: the team in 1978 was expected to contend, this one, not so much.
As a fan of Mexico, I have a lot of experience in adopting a team to follow once Mexico’s participation comes to an end. And like I did in 1978, I am riding front row on the Peru bandwagon. Again, under completely different circumstances.
30 years ago, the Peruvians were as an enjoyable team to watch as their more famous South American counterparts. And for a kid who was just discovering soccer, they were a lot of fun. Even in the gloaming of their Golden Generation, they won their group over Scotland, Iran, and Holland.
Things went harshly for Peru in the next round, though. They went winless, had a -10 GD, and their 6-0 loss to Argentina (who needed to win by 4 to make the final) has long been held under suspicion as a fixed match. I sure can pick’em.
Peru made it to Spain82, were in position to advance, but were blasted, 5-1, by Poland in the last group game. They have not been seen or heard from since.
For this year’s Copa America, I chose Peru not because of their dazzling style of play (let’s just say there has been little dazzle), but for the brilliance of their Uruguayan coach, Sergio Markarian. "El Mago" is my kind of coach. He does not force players into his “system,” he plays his hand and does it as well as anyone in the world.
He is one of those coaches that never played professionally, but has enjoyed a long and fruitful career as a coach nonetheless. He has won his fair share of titles for clubs in South America. He has had spells in Greece, and a few years ago, he took the reigns at Cruz Azul. He took them to the finals before eventually succumbing to Santos. His time at Cruz Azul didn’t last long, but he had no regrets in leaving. He wanted to do things one way, and the club another.
In Peru, Markarian took over a team that came in dead last in the last World Cup qualifying round. They had plenty of horses, but too many cooks. El Mago brought order and accountability to the Peruvians; and now they are one win from making the Copa America finals (tonight vs. Uruguay - UNI 7:30 CDT)since their Golden Generation won the whole thing in 1975. To make things a little more interesting , the Peruvians have not lost to Uruguay in the Copa America since 1983. Oh, and Markarian is from Uruguay.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a little luck. Colombia missed a penalty, and hit a few posts along the way in their quarterfinal tilt. But as DKR says, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Markarian has Peru very prepared. And we can’t forget that their biggest stars, Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan, aren’t even on the roster.
“Everyone thought we would be an easy rival before the Copa America Started.” Carlos Lobaton, who opened the scoring in Peru’s shock win over Colombia, said. “Now they are saying, uuf, we get Peru.”
Markarian has proven his worth for Peru in this Copa America. But he has sights set on another prize for the long suffering Peruvian fans. “Peruvian football has been through many years of suffering. After years of frustration this generation has inherited a debt to the fans. This debt may not be of our making but we have the responsibility to repay it all the same.
"We have met our objectives of bringing the players together as a team and playing 6 games in the tournament without losing sight that the main goal is to climb out of the hole we left ourselves in from the last WC qualifiers."
Cold late night, so long ago...
Well, maybe not.