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Ignore Peru at your peril – just ask a Scotsman of your acquaintance

Every soccer-loving Scotsman of a certain age – and there are plenty living all over Australia – remembers it like a nightmare.

It was 1978, the World Cup in Argentina. The Scots were up and about, the Tartan Army convinced Ally McLeod's team would take the trophy and that their first match opponents, Peru, would be but a minor irritation on the road to greater things.

Scotland's Joe Jordan scores against Peru at the 1978 World Cup.

Photo: AP

How wrong they were – and their error provides a salutary lesson for any Australian (or French or Danish fans for that matter) who might be thinking that the Peruvians are the team in their group against whom they might pick up some easy points.

In that game 40 years ago the legendary Peruvian striker Teofilio Cubillas stamped his class indelibly on the global football consciousness, scoring twice as the South Americans came from behind to see off the Scots 3-1 to derail their World Cup dreams before they had really taken shape.

Peru might not have done much in the World Cup since then (their qualification for Russia 2018 is their first since Spain 1982), but they have a history and tradition in the game, borne from two great eras in the sport, that they will draw on heavily this time around.

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In that Scotland match in Cordoba, some 700 kilometres north west of Buenos Aires, the Peruvians delighted in proving wrong those who had thought them potential lighweights in a group in which The Netherlands and Iran were also competing.

Peru eventually topped the group after drawing with the Dutch and beating Iran before losing heavily to Argentina in the final game of the second phase in a match which has long been the subject of scrutiny as the hosts needed to win by a wide margin to make the final.

Cubillas, along with defender Hector Chumpitaz and forward Hugo Sotil, were the stars of a 1970s team that had really put the Andean nation on the footballing map in the modern era – and for something more than their iconic white shirts with the blazing scarlet sash, a kit that is routinely voted one of the best ever seen in the world game.

The former's two goals against the Scots – the first a thumping shot from distance, the second a terrific free kick that bent round the wall after being struck with the outside of the foot – showed his class to perfect effect.

The Peruvians were a force in the South American game in the 1930s and won the Copa America in 1939.

Driven by the first wave of stars, Peru's side of that time was known as Rodillo Negro, the Black Rollers, with striker Teodoro "Lolo" Fernandez, midfielder Alejandro Villanueva and goalkeeper Juan Valdivieso its best known names. It was closely associated with the country's most successful club, Alianza Lima

It was denied the chance to show what it might have done on the world stage by the outbreak of World War Two, which forced the cancellation of the 1942 World Cup. Brazil and Argentina (along with Nazi Germany) had been the three bidding nations, so had the tournament taken place in Latin America, it's fair to assume Peru would have been a front runner.

The next time the Peruvians made an impression in the big time was the 1970 World Cup, a fabled tournament which, as it was broadcast throughout the world in colour, is widely regarded as the first ''modern'' World Cup.

Just before the Peruvians were due to kick off their tournament against Bulgaria news came through of a massive earthquake in their homeland. The players, clearly distracted, fell 2-0 behind in that opening game before rallying to win 3-2, television commentators at the time suggesting their recovery had been sparked by news that family members had survived.

Cubillas and company progressed to the knockout phase as runners up to West Germany only to succumb to the brilliant Brazilians who, inspired by Pele, were to win their third World Cup, beating Italy in the final.

Peru might not have anyone of Cubillas's standing right now, but they have a veteran goalscorer in Jefferson Farfan who has plied his trade at a high level in Europe for years and still offers a threat.

Jefferson Farfan.

Photo: AP

The South Americans also received a huge boost when captain Paolo Guerrero had his drugs ban overturned, allowing him to play in the tournament after all. Captains of rival teams in the group, including Australia's Mile Jedinak, had written to FIFA pleading his case.

The former Bayern Munich man showed his wellbeing by scoring twice for the South Americans in a 3-0 friendly win over Saudi Arabia last week.

He may lack match sharpness in Russia, but he will not be jaded or unfit, and Australia cannot take him, or his team-mates, lightly.

Michael Lynch

Michael Lynch, The Age's expert on soccer, has had extensive experience of high level journalism in the UK and Australia. Michael has covered the Socceroos through Asia, Europe and South America in their past three World Cup campaigns. He has also reported on Grands Prix and top class motor sport from Asia and Europe. He has won several national media awards for both sports and industry journalism.

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