The Round of 16 beckons for Peru at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. The Incas performed impressively in defeating hosts Korea Republic 1-0 in their Group A opener before drawing 0-0 with Togo, and have fulfilled their promise to bring a little joy to the people back home, still recovering from the earthquake that shook the country just before the tournament began.
Their fine showing to date owes much to the exploits of two promising youngsters with slightly unusual nicknames: Eder Hermoza, aka The Cat, and sidekick Cesar Ruiz, known as The Egg to his team-mates. Goalkeeper Hermoza owes his moniker to a feline agility that has helped keep his goal intact so far, while Ruiz's robust performances as a second-half substitute transformed his team on their two outings so far.
And as they prepare for Peru's third and final group game, the dynamic duo chewed the fat with FIFA.com, kicking off by telling the stories behind their nicknames. "I was given it a few years ago, when I started playing for Sporting Cristal. It's all to do with my head because I've always liked playing with my hair shaved really short," explains Ruiz before handing over to Hermoza. "I got my nickname because of a former Peru keeper called El Gato Purizaga. People say I look like him and it seems as if the name has stuck," adds the shotstopper, clearly proud of the connection.
Two characters, one objective
Despite having distinctive sobriquets, the duo could hardly be more different in character. Keeper Eder is a bubbly 16-year old with a gift for expressing himself that belies his young age, while Cesar appears more guarded with his words. As Eder explains, however, appearances can be deceptive. "You should see him when he's with the rest of the squad. He's always joking around and winding you up. He's great to have around."
Cesar returns the complement by describing the No 1's attributes. "He's very calm and relaxed, and he's a lovely guy to talk to. He's so focused during games, so determined to achieve his goals, and that's why things always work out for him."
Naturally, the pair are equally keen to see Peru excel in Korea, and as far as The Egg is concerned, it is vital they do not get ahead of themselves. "We are 80 percent of the way to reaching our first goal, which is the last 16. Now it's a case of taking it one game at a time and ticking off each objective."
While he concurs with his team-mate about the importance of preparation, The Cat is looking much further forward. "We want to reach the final. With that in mind we are taking personal improvement classes and we're preparing just like any player who wants to win the World Cup would."
The Peruvian dream is very much alive, as is the desire to alleviate the suffering of the fans back home, gripped by the early-morning exploits of their young warriors, just as they were when the women's volleyball team surged to silver at Seoul 1988. "Yes, yes. This is all for the people of Peru, who are still struggling to recover from the earthquake. We just want to give them something to celebrate," they add with real conviction in their voices.