Portland Timbers midfielder Andy Polo is part of a Peru team that is making their first World Cup appearance in 36 year, having defeated New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff to become South America’s fifth representative at Russia 2018.
Before joining his national team ahead of the tournament, Polo shared his thoughts on his first World Cup, beginning with his memories of qualifying in from of Lima’s packed Estadio Monumental.
“I remember it so well. It was great, when we were playing against New Zealand, and just remembering the feelings that overtook us when we qualified. We were crying, just filled with emotion.
“It was such a great moment, because after 36 years of Peru missing World Cups, it felt like such a great achievement. But [still], the objectives are clear. We’re not going to the World Cup to be eliminated in the first round. Peru has been working too hard to just go there and not meet our goals. We want to go as far as we can. We know we’re capable of advancing into the knockout rounds.”
“[But] the truth is, you’re very happy whenever you have this type of honor. I think it’s every player’s dream to be able to represent their country at something like the World Cup. Right now, I just have to continue to work hard.”
That hard work has put Polo on the same stage as the heroes from his youth, most of whom starred for the world power on South America’s east coast.
“I’ve watched Korea-Japan, Germany, South Africa, [and the] Brazil [World Cups], and as a child, it’s always a dream to think you’re going to be able to play in tournaments like that. For me, now I’m very close to that dream coming true.
“From [that] past, the players that I admired, it was always the Brazilian players. They always show you something that make you enjoy what you’re watching. I remember the teams with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. They just had something so special. They were so talented, so beautiful when they attacked.”
Breaking Peru’s 36-year World Cup drought is already a huge source of pride for the 23-year-old, particularly given the difficulty of escaping one of the world’s deepest soccer regions.
“For me, it’s a big source of pride to be part of a team that’s won back that respect after so long. During that time, people looked at us as like a team that the whole world could beat. Changing that represents a huge point of pride. Now, we want to be part of that elite group of teams that is respected worldwide.
“You’re proud to represent your country. Your family can be proud, in the same way, that you’re part of a team that got Peru back to the World Cup. We’re part of the generation that’s earned back that respect from the world.
“Of course, my family is very happy, very proud that they have a son, a nephew, an uncle, a family member who is on the list for Russia and a World Cup. To be part of that history that brought your national team back to that tournament? It’s a very special thing, being able to represent your country, having all the sacrifices you’ve made pay off. My family, those close to me, they’re very excited for that.
“You want to keep working hard, both here and in the friendlies that lead up to the World Cup, to justify your place in the 23, to get your opportunity if everything goes well. You want to do the best that you can, the best that we can.”
“We had a very tough qualifying campaign in South America. The region is very strong, so we had to work very hard to even get to the World Cup. So, I think the first objective for the national team is to go there as prepared as we can possibly be to make it to the second round. Because if we’re going to go there just to be eliminated in the first round, all the work we did during qualification, it’s going to be wasted, in our mind. We want to go there, play well, move into the second round, at least. We have to take it game-by-game, because our group is very strong, but our team is also very strong.
“On a personal level, I just want to give my best. I just want to be able to help my team. That’s all.”