By 90Min
June 15, 2018

Four years ago, the scene outside the Maracana before the opening game of the World Cup was like looking into the sun. A sea of yellow stretched as far as the eye can see, dotted only occasionally with the red and white checks of Croatia and smattering of other teams' colours.

It was an entirely different scene in Moscow on Thursday. Passers-by marvelled at the kaleidoscope of different colours on the way to the Luzhniki Stadium. The all-red of Russia was highly visible as expected, but so were the red sashes of Peru's unmistakable outfit. Everyone agreed that the South Americans were the best represented visitors on opening day.

As well they might be. Peru have waited 36 years for this. Entire generations have travelled to be here, with grandfathers bringing their sons and grandsons, who have never seen this before and may never see it again.

Those who do remember Peru at the World Cup will never forget it. The iconic kits were matched by iconic players, most notably Teofilo Cubillas, the only South American to score five goals at two separate World Cup tournaments.

Four decades later, Peru is looking for a new hero. Captain Paolo Guerrero seems a strong candidate, having surpassed Cubillas as the Incas' all-time top scorer. The heartbreak of a failed drugs test in 2017 was eclipsed when his sentence was rescinded last month, allowing the 34-year-old to play at the tournament to which his entire career has been building.

Peru were always going to bring a large contingent, and their hero's redemption has not done ticket sales any harm. Over 43,000 tickets were sold to Peruvians, and a significant number of expats are also travelling to support the country of their heritage.

There were stories of Peruvians selling their houses and giving up their jobs to be in Russia. Connecting flights were found wherever possible: Twitter reports a strong Peruvian presence at airports in Paris, London and Prague. 

Jet lag didn't seem to be hampering them once they reached their destination. Support for the team was measured not just in numbers, but in noise, which echoed through every corner of Moscow. "We are here to win!" they chanted ambitiously, but with such conviction that you could almost believe it possible.

Many were gathered in Red Square, while others joined together at Domodedovo Airport, from where they will fly to Saransk for their opening match. Others are taking an overnight bus journey in excess of nine hours to be there. 

In the centre of Moscow, fans held a banner with the message "we carry your colours on our chest". There was a massive Peruvian jersey on which fans could write positive messages for the team. Keep an eye out for that at Peru's matches.

Any danger of this being a sterile and tepid World Cup has been extinguished by the Latin American fanatics, with Argentinians, Colombians and Mexicans also turning out in their droves yesterday. Peru topped them all, but it is for the actions of their players on the pitch that this tournament will be remembered.

Peru head into the tournament full of hope. Their 15-match unbeaten run is bettered only by Spain, Belgium and Morocco - and none of those nations had as difficult a qualifying campaign as Peru. Also unbeaten in 15 are Denmark - Saturday's opponents.

In a sense, it's the worst possible way to start. An opener against Australia would have given them a good opportunity to get off the mark with a win and maintain their confidence. France would have been a bit of a free hit, as they will surely dominate the group. Denmark presents a must-win game straight away. Or must-not-lose, anyway.

Denmark and Peru are expected to vie for second spot in Group C. The Danes don't have a brilliant squad - Brentford and Ipswich Town are among those represented on the roster - but they do have Christian Eriksen, a man with more than double the international goals of any teammate.

It was his decisive hat-trick against the Republic of Ireland that got Denmark to Russia, and it is on his shoulders that their fate will rest once again. There is more young talent in the team as well though, in the form of Celta Vigo forward Pione Sisto and Chelsea's defender Andreas Christensen.

Will this youth expose Peru's ageing limbs? Guerrero will be supported by 33-year-old Jefferson Farfan, who scored in the playoff win against New Zealand that secured qualification. The centre backs, Alberto Rodriguez and Christian Ramos, are 34 and 29 respectively.

There is enough young talent in the likes of Miguel Trauco (25), Edison Flores (24) and Renato Tapia (22) for Peru fans to hope that they will not have to wait another 36 years for the next World Cup, particularly with the tournament expansion to come in 2026.

From Saransk, Peru will travel to Yekaterinburg - the furthest east of the World Cup stadiums - and Sochi - the furthest south. Sleep will be limited, particularly for those travelling by road. But nobody's going home until the party is over, and a win against Denmark would go a long way to ensuring that the fiesta lasts a little bit longer.

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