Monday, July 2, 2018

Peru fans at 2018 World Cup in Yekaterinburg

My favorite World Cup fans this year were the Peru supporters. It had been 36 years since the country had made the World Cup and its supporters were determined to come to Russia and experience what will hopefully be more than a once in a lifetime event. 
I attended Peru's second game of the first round, a decisive encounter against Frace in Yekaterinburg, the most difficult city to get to for fans to in Russia as it was the furthest east city. With thousands upon thousands of Peru fans descending on the town, airfares ran well over several hundred dollars for a one-way ticket from Moscow or St. Petersburg if they wanted to avoid at least a  26-32 hour train ride. That forced many Peru fans (and photographers like myself) to find another way to the city. The alternative was to fly to Chelyabinsk, a city a five and a half hour away by train, and then ride a train from there to Yekaterinburg. My overnight flight from St. Petersburg was over half full with Peruvians, and we arrived the morning of their game against France (which was at 8 pm local time in the evening).
Hundreds of Peru fans (and myself) then made their way by a cab ride to the central train station for a four-hour wait for the train to Yekaterinburg.
At the train station, the food stands were full of Peruvian's buying breakfast and communicating through hand gestures and photographs to order with only a limited knowledge of Russian words.
After the wait, the Peruvian fans attempted to find which coach they were boarding on the train.
Once on the train many Peruvians quickly fell asleep during the five-hour ride, tired after their overnight flight and long wait at the station.
A steady rainfall greeted the Peruvians at their arrival in Yekaterinburg, forcing many to take cover with whatever they could, including inflatable an inflatable lama.
The Peruvian fans later made their way to the stadium via shuttle busses singing and cheering the whole way. Not everyone was impressed by their energy and enthusiasm...
...and fun costumes.
But most Russsian fans loved the Peruvians, who became known for their friendly and positive energy and non-stop "Pe-Er-Ru" chants.
Inside the stadium, it felt like a home game for Peru. The French fans were vastly outnumbered...
...and many neutral Russian fans enjoyed the atmosphere.
But Peru gave up a first-half goal to France...
...and despite constant pressure from the Peruvian team in the second half...
...some fans began to fear the worst.
Other Peru fans tried to urge one goal out of their team...but reality struck with the final whistle. 
The loss doomed Peru to being knocked out of the World Cup unable to advance out of the group stages with two losses in their first two games. 
The tears started to flow...
...from fans all over the stadium.
Their dreams of World Cup glory dashed.
After the game, the few French fans in the city were subdued in their celebrations.
And Russians found Peru fans to tell them how much they admired their energy and support.
And as the sadness for the loss subsided (One Peru fan told me "We are used to misery,") their indelible positive energy was unable to be tamed for long. After all, for the first time in a long time, Peru was part of the World's largest sporting event, and that was an achievement in itself.