FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Peru entered Sunday with just three all-time wins against Brazil. The Peruvians can now add a fourth.
In what very well may be the biggest shock of the Copa America Centenario, Peru eliminated Brazil from the tournament with a 1-0 win in their Group B finale on Sunday night. Peru claimed the victory at Gillette Stadium under a rain of controversy, as the decisive goal came in the 75th minute after Raul Ruidiaz smacked home a mid-air cross with his hand.
Not even Brazil’s most adamant protests could change the call, and Peru’s ability to bend without breaking at the back produced a result that left a nation hoarse and in pure bliss.
“It’s a tremendous joy for all the people back in Peru watching us,” said Gareca. “It’s an enormous satisfaction for us to make them happy because because we know they suffer with us during games, and also for the fans that were here and did not stop cheering us on during the entire game.”
For Peru, Sunday’s triumph snapped a streak of 31 years without a win against the mighty Brazilians. The last time the Peruvians had defeated Brazil was on April 28, 1985 via a 1-0 mark in a friendly, and what made the Copa America Centenario victory all the more special was that it came in a pressure-packed match that few observers gave Peru a chance in. Brazil was supposed to make it through to the quarterfinals without too much of a problem, not get sent crashing out of the tournament in the group stage by one of the underdogs.
The goal that marked the difference for Peru will be talked about for days and weeks, if not months, however. Ruidiaz scored 15 minutes before the final whistle by using his hand to knock home a cross from Andy Polo, and the goal stood even after a lengthy discussion between match official Andres Cunha and assistant referee Nicolas Taran that incensed both teams and fans everywhere.
“I’ve never scored a goal in my career with my hand, and the final decision is made by the referee,” said Ruidiaz, who was asked repeatedly in the post-game whether he intentionally handled the ball on the play. “My thigh and hand are side by side. It was a very fast play.”
Fast play or not, it will be discussed aplenty in the near future. Not only because Ruidiaz seemed to score illegally, but also because the referees casted a cloud of doubt on the play when they appeared to be talking to the fourth official through their microphones.
“I didn’t know whether they were going to give the goal or not, so there were a couple of minutes of uncertainty for us,” said Gareca. “Thank God that it was called in our favor in the end, but there was certainly moments of anguish and uncertainty because it happened in a game that was very tight and a goal assured that we went through. There was more uncertainty than anything.”
While Ruidiaz will get plenty of attention for scoring the controversial winner, another important figure in Peru’s performance was on the other end of the field. Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese made five saves, some of the impressive variety, and did a good job of coming off his line to repeatedly thwart a Brazilian side that had control of the game for large stretches.
Gallese was awarded with Man of the Match honors after the game, and his contributions were not lost on Peru despite all the euphoria.
“He was key in this win,” said Ruidiaz. “He made a lot of good decisions from the beginning of the game, so we’re all happy about that.”
The memorable win that sent the Peruvians into the quarterfinals as Group B winners means that a date with another talented South American foe awaits. Colombia will play Peru on Friday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Gareca’s side will likely once again not be favored to come out on top.
Peru is just fine with that, though. The team has surpassed expectations with a roster littered with youngsters who do not have much experience but plenty of potential. They are impressing so much, in fact, with their fight and hunger that some fans and pundits are calling for the newcomers to replace the seasoned veterans who are not in camp right now when World Cup Qualifying picks back up again in the fall.
Whether that winds up being the case or not, Peru seems to be a deeper team now and one that is capable of beating more talented opponents.
“The doors are open for everyone to be called in,” said Gareca. “These current players with us are some of the very good players of the many good players that we have in the whole country and abroad. In the future, it will depend on who’s performing better.”