Friendship ended with Iceland fans, now Peru fans are my best friends.
If you’ve been waiting for a party to start for 36 years, it’s no surprise that the attendees are going to be lively.
The party in this case is the World Cup, and the attendees? Roughly 40,000 Peruvians.
The South American nation have arrived en masse to Russia to witness their side take part in the tournament for the first time in four decades, and they’re not scared of making their presence felt.
“It’s just the best, there are Peruvians everywhere,” Julio, a 30-year-old from Lima, tells Dream Team.
“We just dropped everything back home, came over here with everyone else and now we want to enjoy the experience.”
Roberto, a 26-year-old trader, echoes this sentiment.
“The moment the national anthem is played on Saturday evening will be indescribable – we’re already having fun and we can’t wait to see our team play at a World Cup,” he says.
Spotting a Peru fan in amongst the hoards of other nations on show around Moscow is straightforward enough – after all, the red sash draped across their chests is one of the most distinctive feature on any football kit in the world.
And whilst it was the Icelandic fans that stole the show two years ago in France, the Peru fans are certainly doing their best to knock the Scandinavian team off the best fans’ charts.
“All Peruvians have been waiting for this moment for 36 years, everyone here and back home is so excited for our first game,” Diego says.
“There are parties happening everywhere, from Lima to Cusco, and we’re here to add to that atmosphere.”
It’s hard to comprehend just how dedicated these fans are.
The average salary in Peru is just shy of £400 – the cheapest flights to Moscow currently stand at over £1500, and that’s not even allowing for inflation of prices due to demand before the World Cup.
“There are people selling everything they own in order to come out here,” says Arron, a Peruvian who now lives in New York.
“There have been people re-mortgaging their houses over two years ago, before we’d qualified, in the hope that they would be able to come to Russia. It’s crazy.
“You have to understand, Peru is a third-world country so it’s not easy for many – I’ve heard about some fans who haven’t even booked accommodation here, and are just sleeping wherever they can at night.”
But given it has been so long since they last qualified, many are not willing to risk missing out.
Nicolas has travelled with three friends to witness their first appearance at a World Cup since 1982.
“We’ve not qualified for the World Cup in my lifetime, so as soon as we qualified last year I knew I had to come,” the 25-year-old sales rep adds.
“There’s already nearly 35,000 fans here and it’s unbelievable to see so many of our fans come.”
While most are soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying some drinks in the Moscow summer sun, there’s also the usual cast of national team superfans.
One fan, decked out in gladiatorial garms, is a big hit with the passing locals – that was, until I saw him accidentally clock one passer-by round the face with his eight foot flag.
Meanwhile, some fans have unveiled an enormous Peruvian shirt for fellow supporters to write their messages of goodwill towards the team on. I don’t know how much they must have paid for the shirt and its shipping to Russia, but what price can you put on a potential once-in-a-lifetime moment?
This is very much shaping up to being the World Cup that is staged in Russia but belongs to South America.
Figures from April claim four South American teams are in the top ten countries who have sold the most tickets prior to the World Cup, with Peru outselling European heavyweights Germany, France, and England.
Walk down any Moscow street in the opening week of the tournament and there will be Peru fans. But here’s the thing – they’re not even playing any of their first three matches in the Russian capital. Their first game is in Saransk, with their following group matches held in Ekaterinburg and Sochi.
“We knew there’s not a lot going on in those places, so we all came to Moscow to start off,” says 25-year-old Gonzalo.
“Also, the team is based in Moscow, so we thought where better to begin our tournament?”
His friend, Pedro, a restaurateur, agrees.
“Our first game is in Saransk, but it’s a small city,” he says.
“So it looks like most Peru fans have decided to come to Moscow a couple of days ahead of the game to get some of the atmosphere, before we go there.”
The party is just getting started out in Russia, but for 40,000 Peruvians, they’ll be hoping it continues long into July.