Some three weeks ago the Peruvian capital of Lima played host to a dramatic comeback in the final of South America's Copa Libertadores, when Flamengo of Brazil turned defeat into triumph with two goals in a crazy late three minutes against River Plate of Argentina.
This Sunday Lima is about to make football history once more. The city stages the second leg of the final of the Peruvian Championship. Either there is another remarkable comeback, and Alianza Lima, one of the country's traditional big two, manage to snatch the title. Or the crown will go to a club that were not even in existence as recently as ten years ago.
Binacional, from the country's southern highlands, were founded in 2010. And, 4-1 up from the first leg of the final, they are just 90 sound defensive minutes away from an extraordinary lap of honour.
How could such a thing be possible? There are two explanations.
One is that the level of even the best Peruvian clubs is lamentably low. In the last nine years, only one Peruvian club has managed to make it out of the group stages and into the last 16 of the Libertadores. This year, as usual, all four of the country's representatives were quickly dispatched. With one draw and five defeats from their six group matches, Alianza Lima had the worst record in the competition. When the strong are so weak, the weak do not need to be very strong to beat them.
The other explanation can be found in the singular structure of Peruvian football. There are two national, professional divisions. Everyone else can enter the Peruvian Cup, a gloriously eccentric but highly significant competition. It starts tiny and regional, with village clubs. But as it builds into its national stage, the stakes become very high indeed. It culminates in a final -- the losers go into the second division, while the winners are sent straight into the first. This means that there is a highly inviting short cut straight into the top flight. Binacional took advantage of it. They won the Cup in 2017, and went into the first division without having to pass through the second. And they have maintained their momentum. They made their international debut this year in the Copa Sudamericana, the Europa League equivalent. In 2020 they will take part in the Libertadores, the local Champions League, for the first time. All that remains to be decided is whether they will do so as Peruvian champions, or as runners up.
Binacional are treading in the steps of Real Garcilaso, from the city of Cuzco, who were founded in 2009, won the Cup in 2011, were first division runners up the following year and were that lone recent Peruvian success story in the Libertadores, reaching the 2013 quarter finals. Garcilaso's rise was even quicker than that of Binacional. But there could be one important difference. Three times in the last decade Garcilaso have had to settle for second place in the Peruvian Championship. Binacional, though, are very close to getting their hands on the silverware.
The recipe is much the same, though. Clubs this young clearly have not had time to produce their own players. It is a case, then, of getting the finances sufficiently organised to attract a group of experienced campaigners. Of the Binacional starting line up for last Sunday's first leg of the final, seven were over 30 -- plus substitute Donald Millan, a Colombian attacking midfielder who has played such an important part in the season. And there should have been another -- but midfielder Juan Pablo Vergara was recently killed in a car crash. His Number 23 shirt was emotionally held up by the players as they celebrated the avalanche of second half goals -- Alianza had taken the lead -- that gave them a 4-1 win.
Last Sunday Binacional had the undoubted advantage of the extreme altitude of their base city of Juliaca, some 3,800 metres above sea level. Unacclimatised opponents can wilt in the rarified air, And Alianza clearly suffered from the second off of full back Anthony Rosell. They claimed that VAR had been wrongly used in the decision making progress, and argued that the result should not stand - unsuccessfully. So now, at sea level, in front of their own fans, they will need a three goal win to force a penalty shoot out.
Binacional, then, may have to dig deep and work hard to get their hands on the trophy. But coach Roberto Mosquera has been through tougher scrapes. Two years ago he was in charge of Bolivia's Jorge Wilstermann when they made remarkable progress to reach the last eight of the Libertadores. Resplendent in his dark glasses, Mosquera always looks as if he has stepped off the set of 'The Blues Brothers.' On Sunday night he will certainly be singing the blues -- either to drown his sorrows, or to celebrate a league title for this blue-shirted club who were founded as recently as 2010.