Revisiting Peru’s Shock Win over Scotland in the 1978 World Cup

“We’re on the march with ally’s army, we’re going to the Argentine, and we’ll really shake them up, when we win the World Cup because Scotland are the greatest football team.”

Those were the lyrics from the chorus of Scotland’s 1978 World Cup song which was titled “Ally’s Tartan Army.” These days, viewed as a secondary football nation, in 1978 they were viewed as one of the best teams in Europe. Being the only team representing Britain, they wanted to make an impression and were confident they would win the World Cup.

On the other side, a lesser known but still somewhat recognizable Peru side were preparing for their first World Cup since 1970, having missed just one tournament. This was the golden generation of Peruvian football, and often recognized today as the greatest South American team ever outside of the traditional 3 (Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina) but it is a very debatable topic.

Peru shockingly missed the 1974 World Cup after doing so well in 1970. They were short on keepers at the time. Historically, Peruvian goalkeepers have been good even prior to the 70’s. The likes of Jose Soriano, who played for River Plate 40 years prior, as well as the great Juan Valdivieso, who was part of the team in the 1936 Olympic Games that controversially withdrew after being forced to replay Austria, in a game they won, lined Peru’s rich tapestry of goalkeepers.

Peru lost out to Chile in 1974 qualifying, but only 4 years later they made up by returning to the World Cup. Keep in mind that in the meantime, they also won a Copa América in 1975, so it’s not like the Golden Generation was close to being wasted. They decided to keep the legacy going though by qualifying for 1978 in the same group as Chile again. This time, they got the draw in Santiago and went unbeaten in the first round. They were able to defeat Bolivia afterwards and only lost one game to Brazil. They finished second in their group and qualified automatically for the final tournament.

Scotland on the other hand, had qualified from a group containing Czechoslovakia and Wales, only losing away to the former. While they didn’t have as much competition as Peru in the qualifiers, it still wasn’t entirely an easy run. Scotland had a great team. While they were very confident going into the tournament to the point that they were arrogant, they had a very prestigious squad that was good enough to consider them as one of the favourites for the title.

Archie Gemmill was the captain. He was 31 years old at the time, and had won several trophies with Nottingham Forest, including the Premier Division and the European Cup. Forest winning both those trophies is part of English football folklore and one of the greatest stories there is in the sport.

A petite midfielder, Archie had also played for Derby County, and won the Premier Division twice with them. Derby and Nottingham Forest are known for not liking each other in the Championship, but back then both were quality sides, fighting it out on the top level of English football. Derby had done well in the early 1970s, while Forest had shown up later in the decade.

Then there was Joe Jordan, who played for the famous Leeds team of the 1970’s. That same team that reached the European Cup final in 1975 as well as the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1973. The team failed to win in both finals but they at the very least won the English top flight in 1974 and finished as runner ups twice very early in the decade. He had just recently left the team by the time the World Cup had started, and joined Manchester United. He was inducted into the Scottish Hall of Fame later in time for his efforts particularly with Leeds United.

There were other successful and recognizable players, such as the captain of Liverpool in Graeme Souness, Kenny Burns who was part of the European Cup-winning Forest Side, and most notably and arguably the star of the team, the great Kenny Dalglish.

For many people, he probably doesn’t need an introduction. He was one of the greatest forwards to play the game and was one of the greatest British players ever. That season prior to the World Cup was his very first at Liverpool, where he identified himself the most. He scored 20 goals, and while the Reds didn’t win the league, they did the year after. A legendary side was created around him as he was the star of both Liverpool and Scotland. What they did win was the European Cup in their first year, with Dalglish scoring in the final against Club Brugge, and with Souness right by his side.

So it was a very good Scotland team, but just how did Peru match up? Some players had stuck around from the 1970 World Cup, but for the most part, it was a very different side. Firstly, it was mentioned earlier that at the start of the decade, Peru had a bit of a goalkeeper crisis. They didn’t have anything to be proud of in net with Luis Rubiños. Any shot that went on goal in 1970 against Peru was a goal, as proven vs. Bulgaria, Germany and Brazil.

In terms of pure Peruvian goalkeepers, it still wasn’t very good. However, this began a trend for many keepers in the future; Peru actually had an Argentinian in net in Ramon Quiroga. He had lived in Peru for 5 years and thus was eligible for the team. He played for Sporting Cristal since 1973, albeit not all the way as he had a short stint at Independiente in the mid 70’s before quickly
returning to Los Cerveceros.

Hector Chumpitaz, who is often regarded as one of the best ever South American central defenders alongside Passarella and Figueroa, was still hanging around. He was dubbed as “capitán de America,” as he was the most identifiable captain of all the South American sides. He was 34 and still had something to offer.

Hugo Sotil was one player who had a huge impact in that World Cup. He was called up in the very last minute in 1970 but understandably didn’t make much difference as he didn’t get very many minutes, which is the contrary to this tournament 8 years later where he was a star player for La Blanquiroja. At the time, he had already played out his spell with Barcelona and was now back at Alianza Lima, where he played alongside Teofilo Cubillas who also featured in this World Cup.

Teofilo Cubillas is often dubbed as the best Peruvian player of all time, and for a good reason. He was a midfielder who played a very similar role to what Diego Maradona was for Argentina. As with all Peruvians, he had a marvellous technical ability. As with Sotil, he had already played out his stint in Europe and at 29, he was back in Peru. He had played for Basel and Porto prior.

So as a comparison, the Peruvian side did not have the successes that the Scottish team had at club level, but even the likes of Muñante, Chumpitaz and Percy Rojas had come close as all three reached the final of the Copa Libertadores with Universitario de Deportes – no small feat. The team had experience playing together as well, having proven themselves at a top level by winning
the Copa America in 1975 – which included Brazil’s last home loss before Germany in 2014. La Blanquiroja had won 3-1 in Belo Horizonte in that tournament.

So the matchup was more even than one would think, given the history of team chemistry and the achievements from the likes of Sotil and Chumpitaz. The Scottish still did not know what they were up against, as none of what I said above was known to the Scottish press. Alan Bould had made a nursery rhyme that went like this

“Poor poor Peru
If only you knew
What the boys in Blue
Are going to do to you!”

The match between Scotland and Peru was the first in the group, and it was played with a big crowd in Cordoba (37,000 people). Peru had all their stars playing. Oblitas, Cueto, Cubillas, Chumpitaz and Quiroga all featured. The match actually began as expected. In the 14th minute, a nice bit of passing play allowed a shot that was rebounded by Quiroga and tapped in by Joe
Jordan. Peru probably deserved to go down, as they were a bit lazy in the early minutes. They had edged possession by that point but couldn’t convert that into great passing play, even if you saw there was an idea of what they wanted to do.

Peru’s goal came in the 43rd minute, and to get out of third person for one minute, I urge you to go and watch it as it is one of the most underrated World Cup goals of all time. It defines the Peruvian style and Cueto had a great finish to it. Written, it was a good tiki-taka play from La Blanquiroja, followed by a dummy from Cubillas which created space for Cueto to have a clear chance on goal.

In the second half, Scotland were granted a penalty. It was the correct decision by the referee as the foul was clear. However, the penalty was saved by Ramon Quiroga. Don Masson shot it with power, but Ramon reacted excellently and was able to avoid another Scottish lead. From there, Peru dominated the play and 2 more Teofilo Cubillas goals led them to victory. The first of which was a right footed powerful shot that went at the speed of a bullet. There was little Scottish keeper Alan Rough could have done to prevent it as it went in at the top left corner. The second goal was very similar, but it went in from a free kick. Neither were as well played as the first goal, but what mattered for Peru was the win and not a contest of who scored the best goal.

La Blanquiroja had won 3-1 and was in a good position to continue to the next round, likely only needing to win against Iran. They not only did that, but also got a draw against who became the runner ups at that tournament, a 0-0 draw against the Netherlands. Scotland were able to defeat Holland in their last game, but a draw against Iran let them down and they went out in the first round.


By: Brian Bertie