A Mexican fan follows El Tri's game against South Korea the morning of Saturday, June 23.

Soccer is a Salvadoran crowd losing their minds over a German last-minute screamer. At Panchita’s #2, a pupusería on 16th Street, even the cashier was distracted by the nail-biting second half of the Germany v. Sweden World Cup game. He gave me the wrong agua fresca twice; I tipped him for knowing his priorities well.

In this month-long ritual, one is just happy to tune in and belong. Success is having a TV at work, and a complicit boss who understands that one does not simply turn away from el mundial. Staring at the screen from outside the window of a crowded bar is an immense win. Listening to the World Cup on the radio, imagining that fabulous goal before people start sharing it on Facebook. If you’re really lucky, you get paid to follow the event — even if from afar — and then write about it. #blessed

Bars and eateries opening at earlier hours seem to be the rule, and advertising is necessary when your venue does not.

Success is also determined by previous expectations. Germany going out last Saturday would have entailed immediate public shame for the defending world champions. Its fans would have had none of it; a rumored division inside the team (including a faction unfortunately dubbed “The Bling-Bling gang”) would have only added to the ignominy.

The opposite is also true: if one’s national team never went to the World Cup, or is there after a long absence, everything else feels like a bonus. “Maybe some people think that three goals against is too much,” said Panama’s coach Hernán Darío Gómez, a veteran of several World Cups, after his side’s 0-3 opener against Belgium. “Considering who our opponents are, our history, our development […] they could have scored more.” A few days later, England did just that, but the excitement of the anthem and the giddiness of being there, made that number less important.

Expectations define how we look at a game, at our rivals, and at the people rooting for certain teams.  We celebrate for the mere opportunity of belonging — even if it is only for a second.

Largely unscientific urban polls struggled during the past few days to find the root of the Latin American schadenfreude toward Argentina. Visiting sports boutiques and dive bars during a sunny afternoon, this reporter was surprised to find that World Cup fans seemed to have regained their compassion. “I think it’s Real Madrid fans being petty against Messi,” said Arnold, a young Honduran fan wearing a Peru jersey. We will fact-check his theory after La Albiceleste’s decisive game against Nigeria, Tuesday at 11 a.m.

A lesser-known theory in the Mission, but notable among South Americans, is the aversion generated by the chauvinist commentating of Buenos Aires-based regional sports’ broadcasts. They may be happy to find out that on-air screaming and general hotheadedness has increased since Argentina’s defeat last Thursday. Talking heads have finally noticed that the emperor has been naked since 1993 — the year of Argentina’s last Copa America win — and that an uninspired assembly of names can only get you so far.

Argentina’s new spin on Andersen’s classic has lessons to be learned even before Messi finds his way back to Barcelona:

  1. Reality-check.
  2. Be careful of hard-working mid-tier teams.
  3. Do not forget that the “little” victories that seem like a formality are someone else’s impossible mountains. Like making it to the World Cup.

Curses and a Robben dive still fresh in their souls, Mexican fans have not quite overcome that underdog hopefulness, even when their team seems to dominate a game. At El Trébol, a bar at Capp and 24th hidden under the façade of a corner store, Modelo is still cheap and Mexicans are still harsh with their players, dripping beer as they gesticulate against a screen spattered with hot sauce. No game against South Korea is supposed to be easy, even if it comes on the tails of a win against the crumbling defending champions.

Such candor should make the agony of a really close victory even more enjoyable, whenever that comes. The anguish, for now, will be an artifact of the time difference: after two weekend games, fans will have to find their way to a television at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday. Make no mistake, there will be a celebration should “El Tri” manage to qualify. Sí se puede!

Mexican fans follow the game against South Korea inside El Trébol.

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