Politics, war and the bicycle kick: Chile and Peru set to renew storied rivalry at Copa America

Peru and Chile will meet for another edition of the 'Clasico del Pacifico' in the Copa America semi-finals, a derby rife with enmity and history.

Peru's players train at the Estadio Nacional in Santiago on Sunday ahead of their Copa America semi-final against hosts Chile on Monday night. Henry Romero / Reuters / June 28, 2015
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Chile face Peru in the Copa America semi-finals on Monday in one of the fiercest rivalries in South American football, fuelled by politics, border disputes and a 19th century war.

Matches between the two Andean neighbours are known as the “Clasico del Pacifico” and are played against a backdrop of historical enmity that dates back more than a century to the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific.

The Chileans won it and annexed a swathe of Peruvian land which they have held ever since.

As recently as last year, the two countries settled a long-standing maritime border dispute. Peru took Chile to the International Court of Justice at The Hague and forced the Chileans to hand over more than 20,000 square km of sea. The two nations are still wrangling over a tiny triangle of land on their common border. It is under Chilean control, but the Peruvians say it is theirs.

On the football field, at least, the rivalry began in 1935, but the animosity pre-dates that first encounter by several decades.

Most famously, differences of opinion remain to this day over which country is responsible for the invention of the bicycle kick.

Chileans say they invented it in a 1914 match, christening the overhead volley as “La Chilena”. Peruvians see it differently, arguing that it was first tried in the port city of Callao in the late 1800s, being given the name, “La Chalaca”.

More recently, several matches between the two sides have entered folklore.

In 1977, Peru ended Chile’s hopes of qualifying for the 1978 World Cup; Chile had inflicted the same misery on Peru in qualifiers for the 1974 tournament. Peru’s military dictator Francisco Morales ran on to the pitch to lead his country’s celebrations.

In another match in 1986, Chile raced into a 3-0 lead within the first 15 minutes thanks to some dreadful goalkeeping from Peru’s Eusebio Acasuzo. He was substituted to jeers from Chile’s fans who shouted “Acasuzo for president!” He never played for Peru again.

When Peru came to Santiago for a World Cup qualifier in 1997, the home fans drowned out the Peruvian national anthem with whistles.

Chile won 4-0 thanks to a Marcelo Salas hat-trick, but after scoring his third goal he almost came to blows with Peru goalkeeper Julio Cesar Balerio.

“A player has got to be prepared for hostility,” Peru assistant coach Nolberto Solano said this week in an interview with a Chilean newspaper. “We can’t expect the Chileans to applaud us.”

Asked whether the semi-final was anything more than a football match, he said: “Do you think we’re coming with pistols and machine guns?.

“It will be a hard game and that’s what we’re focusing on. We’re talking about football, not about putting on a bullet-proof vest and a helmet.”

In recent years, bilateral relations have improved.

There is a large Peruvian community in Chile and the Chileans have significant investments in Peru. Both countries have joined forces in a new trade bloc, the Pacific Alliance.

So far, the Chile fans have largely respected the national anthems of visiting teams at the Copa America. That respect will be put to the test during Monday’s encounter in Santiago.

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