By Gideon Long
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Paolo Guerrero, Peru’s hat-trick scorer in their quarter-final win over Bolivia on Thursday, was only three years old when his uncle, a Copa America winner in 1975, died in one of Peruvian soccer's worst tragedies.
Guerrero’s uncle was Jose Gonzales, Peru’s reserve goalkeeper when they won the Copa America 40 years ago. It was a vintage Peruvian team led by arguably their greatest ever player, striker Teofilo Cubillas.
Gonzales enjoyed a fine career at Alianza Lima, winning three league titles. He made the Peru squad for the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain and played at the Copa America in 1987 in Argentina.
But on Dec. 8 that year he died in a plane crash, aged 33.
The Alianza team were flying back to Lima from a match in the Peruvian Amazon. As their plane circled to land it crashed into the Pacific killing all 42 passengers, including Gonzales and another 15 players. The only survivor was the pilot.
“I was only three or four years old when my uncle died but I can remember my mother’s cries,” Guerrero said earlier this year in a television interview in Brazil, where he plays his club soccer.
“She was listening to music, she was ironing I think, and she cried out, because they were talking about a plane crash, a tragedy in which all the Alianza Lima players had been killed.”
Even though he hardly knew his uncle, they were united by soccer.
Gonzales took Guerrero to Alianza matches as a club mascot. There are photos of Guerrero as a toddler, dressed in the club’s black and white stripes, alongside his uncle on the team’s pitch.
Naturally enough, Guerrero started his career at Alianza, coming up through their youth ranks before moving to Germany to play for Bayern Munich and Hamburg.
In 2012 he moved back to South America to join Brazilian giants Corinthians. Once the Copa ends he will move to Flamengo.
Guerrero caught the eye at the 2011 Copa in Argentina where he was top scorer and helped Peru finish third, scoring a hat-trick in their final match against Venezuela.
His second Copa hat-trick on Thursday put Peru into the semi-finals again giving Guerrero a chance of emulating his uncle. The Peruvians face Chile in Santiago on Monday.
“We can’t give Chile chances because they’re playing very well and they’ll make their home advantage count,” Guerrero said. “But we’ll go out to face them as equals.”
(Editing by Rex Gowar)