SANTIAGO (Reuters) - 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.
The traditional animosity between the two Andean neighbours dates from the War of the Pacific in the 1880s, which Chile fought against the combined forces of Peru and Bolivia.
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.
The rivalry has often spilled over into “the Classic of the Pacific”, as the football fixture is known.
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.
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.
In 1977 the Chileans went to Lima with both sides looking to secure a place at the World Cup in Argentina the following year.
The Peruvians won 2-0 and qualified while the Chileans missed out. Peru’s military dictator Francisco Morales ran on to the pitch to lead his country’s celebrations.
“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 focussing 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.
Editing by Ken Ferris
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