LIMA: Eight witch doctors from across the continent called on the spirits to bring luck to the dozen teams in the Copa America on Monday, a day before the South American tournament opener.
Dressed in a multi-coloured poncho, rainbow-striped pants and a felt fedora, lead shaman Juan Osco blew mouthfuls of scented cane liquor and threw flower petals at a soccer ball bearing the teams' crests.
“With flowers, good perfumes and good wishes we are asking the protective gods that no misfortune befall any player and that above all there are good matches,” intoned Osco, Peru's self-proclaimed “Shaman of the Andes”.
The Copa America, held in seven cities across Peru until July 25, brings together Mexico, Costa Rica and 10 South American squads.
Osco and his comrades – each wearing variations of a similar outfit – chanted, rattled gourds and waved skulls, dolls and even a shrunken head from an Amazon tribe during the half-hour ceremony in front of Lima's Nacional Stadium.
Inside the 52-year-old stadium, work crews put on the finishing touches ahead of yesterday's Group A openers between Venezuela and Colombia; and Peru and Bolivia.
While Lima is a modern city in many ways, rural customs such as shamanic rituals have been brought to the capital by millions of Andean and Amazon Indians, who migrated from the impoverished provinces in search of a better life during the last century.
Tabloid newspapers sold at Lima newsstands list dozens of shamans offering services that run from curing health problems and finding a mate, to placing a hex on your enemies.
Not everybody was convinced by Monday's ritual, however.
“We're going to win with witchcraft? I don't believe in these powers,”' bystander Alberto Ramirez said.
The 60-year-old said that he was betting on neighbours Chile, who open their campaign tomorrow in in Group C against Brazil in the Andean city of Arequipa, 750 km (465 miles) south-east of Lima.
“Soccer is hard work – not magic,” said Ramirez. – AP