MOSCOW — I was there in 2014, in Fortaleza, Brazil. It was awesome. It was like nothing I had ever seen. It was my first World Cup, and as a Mexico fan, the Round of 16 game against the Netherlands was going to be my first ever Mexico World Cup game.
I cannot begin to describe the pregame buildup in the city. It was as if Mexicans had taken over all of Fortaleza. I mean it literally. You went downtown and inside of every hotel window you saw Mexican flags. The pier at night was swarmed with thousands of green shirts all singing Cielito Lindo. Imagine Santa Monica pier jam-packed in green. It was incredible. I had never seen that kind of communionship from a set group of fans, and I saw a number of teams that Summer, including Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
As fate would have it, things wouldn’t turn out too great for Mexico. All I can say is that, to this day, I’ve never seen highlights of that game. As “no era penal” became a trending topic on social media, I can only remember the tears of all the Mexican fans around me and the depressing bus ride back to the city.
One thing I would like to say about that game is that there was always doubt. You really cannot describe it. You know when the commentators on television say, “You can feel the tension inside the stadium”? It was something like that. You could genuinely feel that despite all the singing and jumping up and down, there was doubts, and when Wesley Sneijder scored the equalizer, every Mexico fan in the stadium was muted.
Moscow was a lot different. Sure, there were Mexico fans in every corner of the city, but everything just felt disjointed. As somebody who is a member of a lot of the Mexican fan forums and Facebook groups, the difference was clearly noted. Posts in Spanish read, “We are not showing enough support. If you see a fellow Mexican in the street, shout Viva Mexico”.
I can’t exactly pinpoint why this was the case. Perhaps it is because Moscow is a big city, and outside of Red Square, it’s difficult for fans to organize. Not to mention, the plane ride from Mexico to Russia is no walk in the park. We are talking about 2-3 connecting flights, and if you are coming from the United States, outside of Los Angeles and New York, you can expect something similar. And so, come game-time at the Luzhniki Stadium, I expected a supportive crowd, yes, but also one a bit more out of touch than the regular El Tri fan.
Now, I’ve had the fortune to travel to different places and different stadiums Mexico has played in within the United States, and I’ve also had the honor to attend a Mexico vs United States game at the Estadio Azteca. When I say the Mexico national anthem at Luzhniki Stadium topped all of them, I mean it. It wasn’t that was the loudest national anthem I’ve heard, it was the passion which it was sang. It was 100% pride. I don’t know how to put it into words.
When the game actually started, the idea of mine that this group of fans was going to be different than the ones from previous Mexico games I’ve attended was confirmed. They were not worse, they were better.
This is where I also want to take a second to talk about the homophobic slur. It’s indefensible and it needs to stop. At least in my section of the stadium, there was a plea from fans around me to stop it, and for the most part, everybody agreed not to do it. I can’t speak for other parts of the stadium, but I can tell you there was real effort inside to stop it. I remember an open discussion between the dad behind me and his children, talking about why it is wrong to do it.
Indeed, this game felt different. As you can imagine, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano’s goal was unforgettable, but it will be the second half what I will remember most. I want to make the comparison with the game in Fortaleza because they are the only two Mexico World Cup games I’ve ever attended. They were also games with very similar expectations. The difference with the game in Moscow is that there was never any self doubt. Despite the herd of German players attacking from what seemed every angle, there was never a point in the game where it felt like Mexico fans were saying to themselves, “we aren’t going to make it”. In fact, the fans around me even refused to chant “Sí se puede” because they thought it gave the wrong idea. They believed the best way to help the team is to keep singing and send all the positive vibes they can. They saw sí se puede as only setting themselves up for failure. Of course, there would be no failure at the end of the game, and unlike Fortaleza, the tears were of happiness and not disappointment. It was the first time in my life that I felt like the fans genuinely played their part to will their team to victory.
You have to understand, the Mexico national team is a source of great pride for Mexicans, and to show the world even for just one game that, contrary to what the world may think, Mexicans can be excellent too is what the true legacy of this game will be. It is too early to know how far this Mexican team will go, but a little bit of positivity and belief never hurt anybody. Along with all the memories, that is what I will take most from this game.