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Striking a deal

National championship kicks off in total chaos

San-MartinSan Martin lost 2-0 away to Cienciano in Cuzco on the last weekend of March in their first match of the Descentralizado, a month after the official start of Peru's national championship.
They were back after dropping out of the league in protest at the sorry state of football in the country, where players who were fed up with their clubs owing them months in back pay went on strike.
Most clubs fielded junior teams on the opening weekend of the season, while San Martin, enraged at the situation, did not even bother to field a team at all at Melgar - and lost the points. But they cared little about this minor detail as the board decided that the club, who were one of the few with their books in order and payments up to date, had had enough.

They were angry with the players union for calling a strike, but above all they were furious with the likes of Universitario and Alianza Lima for seeking further refinancing of their huge debts in order to stay in the league. San Martin, champions three times in the last five years, were also insulted at being called "insignificant" by the presidents of the big clubs, who belittled their contribution to the league because of their very small fan base. San Martin's withdrawal was accepted by the Asociación Deportiva de Fútbol Profesional, which runs the Descentralizado. Meanwhile, the government stepped in with measures to ensure the indebted clubs were put into temporary administration while others would be closely monitored. The top-flight clubs, S1 OOmillion in debt according to Peruvian media, owe not only players' wages but also taxes and pension-fund contributions. Universitario president Julio Pacheco was banned for two years after presenting the Peruvian Football Federation with fraudulent papers during an investigation into the club’s finances.

Martin-ArzuagaThis coincided with San Martin's return, having been convinced there were serious efforts at last to clear up some of the many problems in Peruvian football. They were allowed to reschedule matches from the second, third and fourth rounds of the championship.
Biggest victims Ultimately, the biggest victim of this chaotic start could be the national team, as coach Sergio Markarian prepares for what he considers to be the hardest stretch of the World Cup qualifiers.

San Martin dropped out in protest at the sorry state of football in the country

A 3-1 defeat by neighbours Chile in a friendly in March, in which both countries picked only home-based players, merely served to underline the difficulties Markarian faces. As a result of the league chaos, his players were short of match practice, with only a few having played Libertadores Cup games for Juan Aurich and Alianza Lima.
Several San Martin players were also in the squad at a time when they were technically unattached and their lack of match fitness was especially noticeable.
Peru, one from bottom of the South American table with three points from three matches, host Colombia on June 2 before facing Copa America holders Uruguay in Montevideo a week later. They then have home games in the space of four days in September against Venezuela, the continent's most improved team, and Argentina. “These matches will show us where we really are,'' says Markarian. "It's going to be a very hard test."

When Markarian steered Peru, who have underachieved for years, to a surprise third place at the Copa America last year, it raised hopes they might finally end a World Cup absence dating back to 1982. Now he says: "Everything is very difficult in Peruvian football. We must wait for the waters to calm.”


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