The cheap cups were thrown in air, the expensive beer in them a trivial concern. The alcohol flowed freely; it spread wide too. For the Mexicans at the Luzhniki Stadium, this was a moment to jump, scream, and act recklessly. Hirving Lozano had just given Mexico a shock lead over Germany, and they could scarcely believe it.
Not everyone was pleased with the demonstration of free love, though. The journalists sitting next to the rowdy bunch bore the brunt as they became landing targets for the beer. An inconvenience it was, but a minor downside in the context of Mexico’s historic win.
The tone for the victory was set days before the encounter against Germany. Mexico fans had already stood out with their vibrant presence, their impromptu chants, and their sociable interactions on the streets of Moscow. The green, the white, and the red — the colours which give the Mexican football team its nickname, El Tri — were in abundant display. Even in the midst of other fans who certainly lacked no enthusiasm, the Mexicans brought something of their own to the World Cup.
The delights produced by Mexico’s supporters were repeated with alacrity on Sunday evening as the fans celebrated their moment under the sun. The sombreros were out, so were the Aztecs-inspired outfits. Those who sported them were in demand for selfies, walking props waiting to be appropriated by those who want to jump on the latest bandwagon. It was the moment to lap it up.
Not everyone caught the attention of a passer-by. The young man from Mexico City, whose voice was hoarse from shouting all day, told me how he lost three of his sombreros as he sat next to me (uninvited) for dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant. Apparently, the hats did not clear the security checks at the Luzhniki Stadium as they were “too huge” to be allowed. When he saw that other fans had done the wise thing of putting only one sombrero on their head, he was aghast. The Mexico fan in him was pleased but he rued the missed opportunity to strike a conversation with some locals by the way of his sombreros.
He was not the only one to miss chances on the day. Mexico repeatedly failed to increase their advantage against an uncharacteristically frail Germany. However, if you judged the match through the mood of Mexican fans inside the Luzhniki Stadium, you would not have gauged tension. Even as Germany inched closer to an equaliser late in the game, El Tri supporters kept their act going. The singing and chanting would not stop; in fact, it got louder in anticipation of the final whistle. Mexico’s coach Juan Carlos Osorio was eager to recognise the fans’ contribution after the match, dedicating the victory to the travelling supporters.
The fans also seemed to embody the coach’s message to his players — “Play for the love of winning, not the fear of losing.” The words seemed to enrich every action of the El Tri faithful who refused to be awed by the occasion. When the team flagged, they did not. It was a performance of immeasurable intensity, driven by a belief in their team’s ability.
It was also a display of the other emotion which Osorio emphasised in the aftermath of the win. “We are here to give joy,” he said. A joy which knew no bounds when it came to El Tri fans. They are incredibly happy to be at the World Cup and keen to show it too. This sentiment sometimes gets lost in the heavy focus on the contenders. But for a country like Mexico who have exited the last six World Cups in the round of 16, it is just as important to be here as it is to win.
The fans reciprocate that sentiment. They cherish the fact that Mexico are a regular feature at the World Cup, even though their journey does not seem to last very long. When I asked a few Mexico fans, in jest, whether they thought their favourite team could win the tournament, they did not even dare to dream so far. The repeated early exits have brought realism, but no enduring bitterness at the glass ceiling which holds them back.
However, at this most open of World Cups, Mexico can afford to dream a little. With a victory in the toughest game of its group already in the pocket, there is no reason to suggest why this Mexican side cannot do a number on stronger opponents in the knockout stage. If the scenario materialises, one can be sure that the Mexico fans will blow their customary horn with greater ferocity.
On Thursday, the sounds from the supporters were dedicated to Lozano. The goalscorer is one of Mexico’s youngest and brightest; obscenities followed by his name were a common refrain in the evening. Returning to the city centre after the game, as I stood on another of those never-ending escalators inside a Moscow metro station, Mexican fans took charge and belted out a few chants for their hero. The party was still in its infancy. It may go on for a while.
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Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 14:30:54 IST