Logistical failure mars Peruvian final
For those countries that organise their domestic championship in a playoff system, the idea is that the season culminates in a grand showpiece occasion. That, anyway, is the theory. Peru is showing us that it does not necessarily work out that way sometimes.
The Peruvian season is divided into two halves, both played on a league basis. The two winners then meet in a best-of-three final. In the first half of the year, the club that came out on top was Juan Aurich, from Chiclayo. This is significant. Peruvian football is historically very centralised, with the traditional teams clustered in the capital, Lima. When Aurich won their debut title three years ago, it was the first time that the championship had gone to a team from the north of the country.
Their opponent was Sporting Cristal, which emerged victorious in the second half of the year. It was a hard-fought battle, with Cristal finishing level on points with city rival Alianza Lima, one of the country's big two (the other being Universitario).
Cristal and Alianza, then, needed a playoff to define the winner, which would go on to face Aurich for the overall title. It is here that the fun and games started.
Per Peruvian regulations, the playoff had to take place within 72 hours of the final round of league matches. But where? The problem is that Lima is currently hosting an international conference on climate change. Police resources are tied up with this event. The authorities would not give the go-ahead for a game to take place in the city. Trujillo in the north was floated as an alternative. Again, this was vetoed. Police from the provinces have been drafted into the capital for the conference, so it was decided that security could not be guaranteed.
After days of wrangling, the 72-hour rule being disobeyed and the players sent home, one option emerged -- Arequipa in the south was the only city with enough police to stage the match, which went ahead last Thursday night. Cristal won by the only goal, and were through to face Aurich -- but the delay in sorting this out had wrecked the original chronogram, which imagined the first final playoff taking place on Sunday.
Instead the match was scheduled for Monday, at the bizarre time of 3:45 in the afternoon. Juan Aurich would be at home, and announced the game and put tickets on sale -- without confirming with the authorities. But, with the climate change conference going on until December 12th, the same situation applies. There are not enough police to guarantee security for the game.
There were, then, two options. The game could be taken to Arequipa. Or it could go ahead in Chiclayo behind closed doors.
There was no doubt which one Aurich would go for. Arequipa is at the other end of the country from Chiclayo. And even without the presence of their fans to roar on the team, there was still a practical advantage in playing at home -- the artificial pitch in the Elias Aguirre stadium. Synthetic surfaces were introduced in a number of Peruvian stadiums when the country staged the World Under-17 Cup in 2005. It is not clear why they were necessary -- this is not a region which faces excessive rainfall. The players generally detest the pitches.
Cristal coach Daniel Ahmed was surely correct when he complained that "a natural pitch is better for the spectacle. The one in Chiclayo discharacterises the game." But it is a discharacterisation that the Juan Aurich team is used to.
So the match -- at the time of writing -- is set to go ahead in an empty stadium on Monday afternoon. Amazingly, it has taken feverish negotiations to ensure that the game will be televised. This, emphatically, is not the way to treat a showpiece occasion.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.