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14 PERU

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Because ...

YOU BELIEVE IN FAIRY TALES

GROWING up in Lima in the 1980s, I was never allowed to stay up past my bedtime—except when Peru played. My father (right), a man not known for demonstrating affection, would give me a sip of his beer and we'd sing the national anthem, wear white-and-red and chant "Arriba, Peru!" as we watched in the living room, all testing my mother's patience. I was too young, though, to know or appreciate the glory days, when La Blanquirroja advanced through the group stage in '78 and '82. The teams I cheered for with my dad (and, really, the teams since then) were rich with talent, but a lack of commitment and tenacity cost them, so his stories were my only connection to our country's heyday. My father's memories, to me, were nothing but a fairy tale. The squad headed to Russia, however, represents a new chapter. Unlike other South American nations, Peru is not blessed with superstars, but there are also none of the egos that diminished discipline in the past—just a group of young, eager, gifted players (including pacy winger Edison Flores and defensive stalwart Renato Tapia) that manager Ricardo Gareca seems to have rid of all fears. For years, especially during the '90s, Peru exuded an air of inferiority, crumbling under anxiety on and off the field. But Gareca, with his lockdown D, renewed the players' confidence. My father passed away in 2009, but with Peru's return to the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and on the heels of 12 straight undefeated games, I have a new sense of hope, a belief even that fairy tales can come true.