"Dear Australia. My name is Peru, and after 36 years, I'm back. It's been a long time. Maybe you don't remember me. I wanted to write this to remind you who we are."
Have you seen the video that the Peruvian Association released in May, ahead of their first World Cup finals appearance since 1982? Please watch it if you haven't. It gave me goosebumps when I first saw it last month, for this is what the World Cup means to a nation who have suffered long and hard, and not just on the football pitch.
"Dear Australia. We are back. See you on the field."
It is heartbreaking that Peru will fulfil that promise on Tuesday with their World Cup fate already decided. A second 1-0 defeat, this time to France, saw the Incas eliminated. It took 36 years to get back to the World Cup. It took 180 minutes to be knocked out.
Peru and Morocco gave World Cup some of its most endearing performances. Both eliminated without a point nor scoring a goal. Proof of great Dostoyevsky quote “Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man” pic.twitter.com/kXUvW8DJqx— roger bennett (@rogbennett) June 21, 2018
The way Peru played should leave them with no regrets, but they will have plenty. Theirs has been a tournament of what ifs. What if Christian Cueva had scored from the spot against Denmark? What if Paolo Guerrero had taken his chance when one-on-one with Hugo Lloris? What if Guerrero had not given the ball away in the move which led to Kylian Mbappe's winner?
You have to feel for Guerrero. If Cueva was the villain of the first game, he was the scapegoat of the second. Peruvians cried tears of joy when they heard he had been cleared to play at the tournament, but at 34 years old this World Cup came too late for him. Tuesday's game could be his last in the famous red-sashed jersey.
Peru will go to Sochi desperate to win a game for their inspirational captain, and for their wonderful supporters, who dominated the crowd in Yekaterinburg to an extent almost never seen at a World Cup, aside from matches involving the host nation. The final game might not matter, but none of the Peruvian players dare approach it with that attitude.
Australia will have no time to bask in the sentimentality of the occasion. They have a job to do. A win for the Socceroos coupled with a Denmark defeat to France could yet see Bert van Marwijk's side advance to the last 16. In all likelihood, they won't manage it, and it'll be a pity party in Sochi.
But the emphasis will be on the party, not the pity. Peru fans filled the Yekaterinburg night with song after the defeat to France, just as they did in Saransk after losing to Denmark. They didn't wait 36 years, travel over 7000 miles, and in some extreme cases sell their homes to wallow in their own sorrows.
It is the stories of incredible sacrifice which have defined this journey for Peru. Supporters have cut corners wherever possible to save on travel and accommodation, but some will still end up paying more than a year's wages to attend all three group games.
Some sacrifices seem downright foolish. One man put on 42kg so that he could qualify for an obese seat and guarantee his place on the plane to Russia. Another, a Peruvian immigrant in Los Angeles, will have to return to Lima after giving up his job to be at the World Cup.
We often talk about the passion of football being something that non-fans cannot understand, but this sort of dedication confounds even the most vehement of supporters. Can an Englishman, who treats qualification as a right rather than privilege, understand what it means to a Peruvian?
"We are a people who fought against crisis before the world even knew its meaning," they have told us. What Peru and their supporters have reminded us of at this tournament, more than any other nation, is that the World Cup is not just a tool for determining the world's best team. In the face of hardships back home, football has united a country and restored national pride.
They deserve a win, but can they get it in Sochi? This game appeared to be their best chance of three points when the draw was made, but Australia have performed much better than anyone expected. They were unfortunate to lose to France, and dominated for large periods against Denmark.
However, they are yet to score from open play, with only two Mile Jedinak penalties to their name. They will have to go for it from the off against Peru, which could leave wide open spaces for the Incas to exploit. Australia's best hope appears to be 19-year-old Daniel Arzani, who surely has to start after starring off the bench against Denmark.
Peru will be missing Jefferson Farfan, who has been hospitalised with a head trauma after a training ground collision, so Guerrero will get a shot at ending his international career on a high. Ricardo Gareca could hand starts to some unused players, but that is unlikely. He knows how much a win would mean.
Peru may be out of the World Cup, but they have reminded everyone who they are, and what they are capable of. I could not have picked a better second team, and I only regret that the journey has to end so soon. Now one last time....ARRIBA PERÚ!