Teofilo Cubillas: Part 2 – A Star Is Born

With World Cup qualification for Mexico ’70 secured, Teofilo Cubillas saw football’s main set-piece tournament as a chance to announce himself to the world in Mexico. Peru were drawn in Group 4 with Morocco, Bulgaria and West Germany. Excluding the West Germans, who were strong tournament contenders, the other three teams were more or less similarly matched. This made Peru’s opening game vs Bulgaria on the 2nd June in Leon so crucial in determining their progress.


But the game would be played in the backdrop of a national tragedy for Peru. Just two days earlier on the 31st May, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 35km off the coast of Peru. As a result of the earthquake and resulting landslide, up to 70,000 people were killed. As the Peruvian players saw the unfolding horrors back home, they decided to play the fixture and would go on to have one of the best games of the 1970 World Cup.


Though Peru would start the game terribly, falling behind after 13 minutes, undone by a very clever pre-planned set piece finished off by Dinko Dermendzhiev. If Bulgaria’s first goal came about by brilliance then their second goal on 49 minutes came through calamity.



Bulgaria had a free kick less than 25 yards from goal. Hristo Bonev’s effort seemed that it merely required a rudimentary catch from Peru’s experienced goalkeeper Luis Rubiños. That catch would turn into something more as Rubiños spilled the ball into the back of the net.


Finding themselves two goals down, Peru shot back less than a minute later when Pedro Pablo Leon played the ball to Alberto Gallardo to his left. Entering the box, Gallardo fashioned some space with a bit of skill before rocketing the ball in off the crossbar.


Galvanised by Gallardo’s strike, Peru would level five minutes later through a rasping free kick by Héctor Chumpitaz, struck low to beat Simeon Simeonov and nestle in the bottom corner. 


With the game poised on a knife edge, half chances were traded by Bulgaria and Peru. Enter Cubillas on 73 minutes. Receiving the ball on Ramón Mifflin inside Bulgaria’s final third, Cubillas played a one-two with Mifflin and drove towards the box. With just a few touches to bamboozle his markers, the youngster thrashed a low shot into the bottom corner past Simeonov to announce himself to the world.


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Peru would hold on to win their very first World Cup points and victory – they lost all their games in their sole World Cup appearance in 1930. In a interview with FIFA, Cubillas remarked on the impact of their first World Cup win on themselves but to those back home: “Truth be told, the celebration was immense. That victory served to bring joy back to the country,”


Four days later, Peru would face Morocco, the latter narrowly losing 2-1 in their opener vs West Germany. The Atlas Lions would prove a tough nut to crack in the first half, nullifying Peru’s attacks and keeping the scores goalless at half time.


Yet it would be Cubillas who would unlock the Moroccans by pouncing on a rebound at close range on 65 minutes. Two minutes later, Roberto Challe would double the lead with a venomous shot. Cubillas then scored his second on 75 minutes by smashing Hugo Sotil’s layoff from just inside the box into the net.


A 3-0 win sealed Peru’s passage to the quarter finals, their final group game against West Germany to decide who would be group winners. Gerd Muller would decide the game with a hat trick within 39 minutes. Even so, Cubillas would score his fourth goal of the tournament via a deflected free kick to end the game 3-1. 



With the exception of Gerd Muller and Pele, Cubillas had arguably been the player of the group stages – showcasing skill, power, technique and a bit of luck in each of the three group games. 


Yet Peru’s defeat to West Germany meant they would face Brazil in the quarter finals in Guadalajara – an imposing prospect. A team filled with stars in Jairzinho, Roberto Rivelino, Carlos Alberto, Tostao and Pele. Those stars would overwhelm Peru within the first 15 minutes by racing into a 2-0 lead through goals from Rivelino and Tostao. Though Gallardo would pull one back for Peru on 28 minutes,  Brazil would regain their two goal lead on 52 minutes through Tostao’s second goal of the game.


Cubillas would then kindle hope by lashing in a venomous volley on 70 minutes only for Jairzinho to kill the game five minutes later. Though Peru would bow out of the quarter finals with a 4-2 defeat against the eventual World Cup winners, Cubillas had left his mark in Mexico by winning Young Player Of The Tournament.


But the greatest praise of all came from Pele who was awarded Player Of The Tournament. After winning the World Cup, journalists asked Pele if he would play in the next one in West Germany, to which the Brazilian answered: “Don’t worry, I already have a successor and it is Teófilo Cubillas. He has everything it takes to be the best…”



Cubillas in response would remark: “Pelé is a great winner and has always been an example for everyone. I have a special affection for him, because he has always treated me very well. When I arrived in Peru, returning from the World Cup, I went to read the newspapers and saw that Pelé said that he could be one of his successors. It was a great compliment and very important to me,”


There was no rest for the wicked as the Peruvian league season kicked off just six days after Peru were knocked out of the World Cup. Even so, though Alianza Lima finished a disappointing 9th, Cubillas yet again shone by becoming the league’s top scorer with 22 goals. The 21 year old accounted for exactly half his side’s goals for the 1970 season. 


If 1970 was a big year on the international stage for Cubillas, then 1971 would prove to be a big year for him on the domestic stage.


It started when Alianza Lima and Deportivo Municipal decide to unite and form a team as part of Bayern Munich’s tour of Latin America. A team consisting of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier – players who as part of the West Germany team beat Peru in the World Cup were humbled 4-1 – with Cubillas the unbridled star of the game who bagged a brace.


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Things got better for Cubillas during the 1971 league season as Alianza Lima would finish 2nd – their highest league position in 7 years – thereby qualifying for the 1972 Copa Libertadores. Though Alianza Lima would drop off in the 1972 domestic season, Cubillas would showcase his talents in the Copa Libertadores by scoring six goals in the group stages. Such was his prowess that despite Alianza crashing out of the group stages, Cubillas would be joint top goal scorer.


More glowing accolades were to come for the now 23 year old, as Cubillas was awarded South American Footballer Of The Year, beating Pele and Jairzinho. One question now remained – would Cubillas head to Europe and follow in the footsteps of his fellow countryman Alberto Gallardo in the 1960s.


All roads seemingly led that way but Cubillas’ destination would surprise many.


By: Yousef Teclab / @TeclabYousef

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Paul Popper / Popperfoto