Football: Witch doctors brandish the knives, skulls and crucifixes

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Chile v Peru

The fourth and final South American place at next year's World Cup finals could be decided tomorrow. If Peru win in Chile, the Peruvians will confirm their ticket for France and eliminate the Chileans from contention.

Peru are fourth in the standings, behind Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay, who have all already qualified, and three points above Chile.

The build-up to tomorrow's game in Santiago has been bizarre, to say the least. Little love has been lost between the two Pacific nations since Chile annexed two nitrate-rich Peruvian provinces after a four-year war late in the last century. Animosity still exists, and has been magnified by this match.

In Lima, the Peruvian capital, witch doctors have been doing their best to help their team's cause. Dancing, chanting and brandishing a bizarre collection of knives, skulls and crucifixes, they cast a series spells on Thursday intended to guarantee victory for Peru.

The so-called "Shaman of the Andes", Juan Osco, led six fellow medicine men in rituals intended to surround the Peruvian players with positive energy and bring bad fortune down on their rivals. "Long live Peru," shouted the cloaked witch-doctors as they spat alcohol over team photos, raised deer's feet to ensure swift-footedness and held the claws of a condor bird to guarantee fighting spirit.

"Let them have cramp! Let them remain blind night and day," they also chanted, stabbing knives at a Chilean team shirt hung upside down during the ceremony in a Lima square.

Back in Santiago, the Chilean coach was not slow to use some provocative words. "Our country is more educated than yours," Nelson Acosta told Peruvian journalists.

The Chilean president, Eduardo Frei, has tried to play peacemaker. "This is a football match, it is a sport and it does not make sense to treat it as guerrilla warfare between two brother nations. We have to keep a sense of proportion," he pleaded - probably in vain.


The Paraguayans have already qualified for France, and their goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert, looks certain to be one of the characters of the tournament.

Famous for scoring goals from penalties and free-kicks, he was banned for four World Cup qualifiers this year after punching Colombia's Faustino Asprilla. Last year he got a three-month suspended jail sentence for hitting a stadium steward while playing for his Argentinian club, Velez Sarsfield. Now he has made his mark in the political arena.

Chilavert was approached in a Buenos Aires hotel last month by Lino Oviedo, a former general and now a Paraguayan presidential candidate. Oviedo wanted to pay his respects - and doubtless secure a valuable photo opportunity.

"I told him I couldn't embrace him," Chilavert said, "because I think he put Paraguayan democracy in danger. When Oviedo's aides heard what I said they started to insult me. Then they tried to attack me and I defended myself."

The ensuing brawl made headlines in Argentina and Paraguay - but probably not the sort that Oviedo wanted.