The city of Cusco, known universally for its archaeology, colonial architecture and Inca heritage, is a dream destination for millions of tourists from around the world. However, this city, some 900 kilometres east of Lima and the starting point for a visit to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, is home to another much-loved establishment: modest club side Cienciano.
Founded in 1901, the Imperiales endeared themselves forever to Cusquenos by capturing the 2003 Copa Sudamericana and the 2004 Recopa Sudamericana, the only international titles ever won by a Peruvian club. An integral member of those victorious sides was Juan Carlos Bazalar, who remains club captain today at 40. Today, however, the man who skippered his country at the 2007 Copa America is not the only Bazalar in the Cienciano squad.
Carlos Alonso, son and heir
On 19 March 1990 Juan Carlos and his wife Cecilia Arostegui welcomed into the world young Carlos Alonso. Now, 17 years on, the player who scored twice for his country at last year's FIFA U-17 World Cup is the envy of many an aspiring pro. Not only has he played league football in Peru's top flight, but he has done so alongside his father. The historic occasion, which made headlines in Peru and across the world, came to pass when Juan Carlos and Carlos Alonso shared midfield duties in Cienciano's 3-2 win over Juan Aurich on 25 May.
"I'm proud to have brought about their pairing on the field," says team coach Franco Navarro. "The public had been calling for Carlos Alonso to come off the bench in earlier games, but I felt it was only proper to wait for the right time to put him on. Looking back now, it would seem I made the right decision," he adds with a laugh.
The game, played at the Estadio Garcilaso de la Vega in Cusco, started badly for the home side, with Juan Aurich racing into a two-goal lead and threatening to ruin the Bazalar's big day. However, goals from Gustavo Vassallo, Carlos Solis and Masakatsu Sawa would seal a memorable comeback and hand the points to the Imperiales. " . I'd like to congratulate Alonso for putting in a great performance. To me he looked comfortable out there and was supported by his team-mates. That's what's good about this group," says a teary-eyed and proud Juan Carlos.
"I was afraid of losing on my debut, but thankfully we turned things round in time. Everything worked out as I'd hoped in the end - even my mother got to come to the game. She's very important to me," says the 17-year-old. And what did the proud mum have to say about it all? "I couldn't have been happier. All of Peru was hoping for this moment and fortunately both had a great game. The pair of them both looked about 18."
As for match itself, Carlos Alonso was full of running and more than willing to work when not in possession. That said, he was quick to work the ball back to his father when he got the chance. "The ball always has to go back to him, as he really knows what to do with it. Anyway if I didn't, I'd be hearing about it at home later," he says with a grin.
Interestingly, the Bazalars are not the only family at Cienciano. Franco Navarro, the club coach and a former Peruvian international, currently has his 17-year-old son, also called Franco, in his squad.
"We have a regulation here [in Peru] that obliges us to use a player born after 1989 for at least 13 games. So in that context we're using Franco, who was training beforehand with Universidad San Martin. Luckily, he's been performing well," says the coach. And that is not parental bias either, with his son, a striker like his father before him, having recently headed his first top flight goal to see off Atletico Minero and close the gap between Cienciano and second-placed Sporting Cristal.
" I'm still young, though, and have a lot to learn, but first-division experience is priceless," explains the young striker who, along with Alonso, would make for an interesting case study in genetics.
The final word goes to Franco Snr, who says tongue in cheek: "Cienciano have shown they are a great team by what they achieved, and now on top of that, we've become a sort of extended family. While that's something worth valuing, I've already told everyone, I don't want to hear about any more cousins or brothers."