Clad in white jerseys with the trademark red sash, Peru fans clung to the gates outside the Coliseum, pressing their faces against the metal slats to catch a glimpse of their national team’s arrival.
When the plucky South American soccer squad, which in the past two summers has surprisingly reached the World Cup and the final of the Copa America, took the pitch hours later, they received a heroes’ welcome 4,000 miles away from home.
“Pe-ru! Pe-ru!” screamed their supporters, accounting for the vocal majority of the 32,287 in attendance Tuesday for their friendly against Brazil.
The chant echoed around the cavernous venue all night. In the first half, it willed on a Peruvian backline being held under siege. In the final moments, it tried to revive an attack that had hardly threatened the Brazilian goal most of the game.
Finally, in the 85th minute, the chorus reached a crescendo. Peru midfielder Yoshimar Yotun delivered a free kick from the edge of the box. Defender Luis Abram flicked it in with his forehead. The goal was met with an eruption, the deciding moment in Peru’s 1-0 win.
“We would like to continue to improve,” Peru coach Ricardo Gareca said through an interpreter. “It’s important for us to play those teams.”
Brazil has been Peru’s biggest adversary of late. When the teams last met in July’s Copa America final, Brazil played the final 20 minutes down a man, yet prevailed 3-1 to capture its ninth continental championship and deny Peru its first in nearly half a century.
Prior to Abram’s header, Tuesday night followed a similar script.
The sight of the South American giants, with international stars such as Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Ederson, prompted squeals from the fans squeezed around the Coliseum tunnel before kickoff. Brazil’s play over the 90 minutes was often awe-inspiring as well.
With an attack headlined led by Liverpool’s Firmino and Bayern Munich’s Coutinho, Brazil bombarded the Peruvian goal. Brazil forward David Neres, of Ajax, had a penalty claim denied after being tackled in the box in the 20th minute. Fellow forward Richarlison, of Everton, had a long shot saved by Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese moments before halftime.
Gallese was tested again after intermission. In the 49th minute, Richarlison sprung midfielder Allan with a through ball into the box, forcing Gallese to stop a close-range effort. Five minutes later, Coutinho sent a stinging strike toward goal from just outside the box that Gallese fought away.
Even after Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain’s renowned but increasingly infamous striker, entered the game in the 63rd minute, Brazil couldn’t break through.
In the 75th minute, Neymar went tumbling in the box against two defenders. He looked around for a penalty, arms and voice raised.
From the referee, no call came. From the stands, chants of “Pe-ru! Pe-ru!” filled the air again.