Mexico’s Sunday opener at the 2018 World Cup could have gone on forever. As the game neared its conclusion, fans within the Mission District’s El Farolito Bar were less nervous than you’d think the occasion merited. Instead, they quivered with every Chicharito-led fast-break. Surfing a wave of confidence (and beers), they roared with laughter every time Germany failed to convert overwhelming possession into a game-tying goal. The final minutes involved fewer “uhhhhhs” and way more “aaaayyyyeeees!”
On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, the TV cameras settled upon a pair of red-faced Germans in the stands in Russia, holding back tears. Over the sounds of exhilaration, someone at the bar screamed: “Culerooooo!” (“asshole!”). Celebration ensued. Amid the din, Mexican fans could only determine their side had won when their players dropped to their knees. Mexico 1, Germany 0. It was time to take the party outside.
— Shanif (@shanif2010) June 17, 2018
Three days of World Cup play had elapsed without visible evidence of it spilling into the neighborhood. Fans who have lived in soccer-crazed territory during the month-long event know the feeling: One practically breathes the World Cup. The presumption was that the Mission would be the place in the Bay to replicate that sensation. But it wasn’t until Mexico won on Sunday morning that the Mission felt like soccer territory.
True, the start times have been prohibitively early — meaning most fans probably watch from bed, or in a stupor. During most of the last week, the only outward signs of something actually going on were a handful of pedestrians wearing their national team’s jerseys. But even they looked quite calm!
It was the silence that was the most striking. Wins are rarely on our little countries’ sides — so we are always screaming and cheering on another country’s goals. In the advanced stages, Latin Americans tend to line up behind whoever goes further. It is why, until its recent fall from grace, Brazil used to be the regional darling.
It is hard to be neutral during the World Cup, which is why the controversy around Landon Donovan’s bank-sponsored enthusiasm for “El Tri” was internationally dumbfounding. One has to root for someone, and getting to watch your colors at the World Cup can be rare. Just ask Peruvian fans. If your team is playing in Russia, something great has already happened. And whatever comes next — barring getting plastered 7 to 1 — is something to be grateful for.
We do care about the results, though, as a masochist craves the pain. But fans in the Mission seemed to be suffering indoors. No one gathers in the streets to watch the telenovela, and you could witness the goal-triggered euphoria only if you stuck your face to a bar’s window. (Only select sites are open at the ungodly hours these games are played; they are compiled here by yours truly).
Come Sunday at 8 a.m., kickoff time for the Mexico-Germany fixture, one had to wonder if fans would remain indoors. Openers are usually met with childlike eagerness, even as one’s team walks into the wolf’s mouth. Mexican fans tend to come off as overly enthusiastic about their chances. One should know better, especially against Germany, but it must be nice to be that earnest despite recurring disappointment.
Mexican players seemed to share their backers’ enthusiasm, because their pressing and speedy counter-attacks were hurting a German side that was good with the ball, but vulnerable to fear. Most important, the world champions had a hard time translating their touches into goals — the country has not produced a world-class striker in years — and their attack-happy fullbacks were an invitation to wingers in full fitness.
Mexico’s front four — Layún, Vela, Lozano and “Chicharito” Hernández — were not only in great form, but bold in their forays, fed by an inspired Héctor Herrera. Back in the Mission, fans breaking the fast were silently impressed.
Perhaps betrayed by hunger, this reporter chose a taqueria to watch the first half, and was caught fast-walking to a bar when “Chucky” Lozano scored the only goal of the match.
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) 17 de junio de 2018
Dressed in their green jerseys, with some wrapped in the tricolor flag, Mexico’s fans at El Farolito were deep into their tabs by the start of the second half. “Volumeeeeeen!” they kept screaming at the bartender, not realizing that it was their voices that were drowning the Telemundo broadcast. Every few minutes, the overwhelmingly masculine crowd would break into singing “Cielito Lindo,” some slurring their way through it. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the packed venue, there was no risk of tumbling over, no matter how many drinks you’d had.
As their team held the Germans off, the delerious fans started ululating loudly: the famous “grito.” They were singing “oles” every time Osorio’s men passed the ball, a chant often reserved for the final minutes of a larger victory. And they kept drinking. They may still be drinking right now.
When the referee blew the final whistle and the doors opened, people in the street — the sober ones at least — timidly smiled and high-fived one another.
It only took one car honking and waving a flag to kickstart the racket; it sounded like Mexico City at rush hour. A young woman screamed to the passing vehicles: “We’re still here!”
Mexico has two more games to go in the first round, and a Round-of-16 curse to exorcise, but the wrongs were righted for at least a few days. If you run into a civilian with a spring in his or her step, you may guess who they were rooting for.