17 June 2010
A Very Big Game Day
The venue for game day today here in San Miguel was Manolo's at the corner of pila seca and zacateros. Manolo's is an adjunct to an Argentine restaurant called Casa Payo.
(That is one of the two beggar ladies that I have adopted on the front step. At least five pesos every time I encounter her. The Mexican social safety net.) When you see “Argentine” on a restaurant here in Mexico, that means only one thing—beef. Thick cuts of beef. And hamburger. But more about that later.
Manolo's is just your usual sports bar dump. I was in the room in the back there.
A lot of green jerseys in the streets today. There always are on game day.
What a great game by Mexico! I will try to keep my sports reporting to a minimum here, but I am not going to be able to help myself. I just want to tell you what I saw along with the little group--eight Mexicans and two other gringos--that I was with in the back room at Manolo's. And besides, I am pumped. I admit it. You cannot not be in the middle of this.
Of the several games that I have seen them play now—and again, from my admittedly inexperienced point of view—this one was probably their best. I say this while recalling that great 1-0 game against Honduras last year in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City thousands of feet above sea level, which usually gives Mexico an edge. I say this while recalling that even greater win at Costa Rica in that goddamned snakepit, Estadio Ricardo Saprissa. (Nobody likes Costa Ricans except for a small minority of other Costa Ricans.) Moreover, this Mexican team has had to overcome a long tradition of Mexican teams showing up flat at the World Cup.
Let me just say this about that first half, which ended 0-0. The professionals seem to be consistently reporting a listless performance by France, the runner-up in the last world go 'round. I understand that this has been the story line on them. Nonetheless, I saw France play hard in that first half, and I saw flashes of good stuff from them. I also saw a Mexican team that attacked repeatedly. After the initial flurry against South Africa, they kinda rolled back on their heels for some reason. Not this time. Still, though, the shots were flying high and wide.
Second, Mexico played outstanding defense. I don't see how anyone could argue with that. The French players always had at least one Mexican inside their shirts. Without exception. My point is that the Mexican team had a good deal to do with France's poor performance today.
So then, we were set up for that second half.
This Hernández kid (Chícharo ["Pea"] to the faithful here) is one of those young men who just looks like a fine young man. You like him when you see him. He is also a young jillionaire now, thanks to some team in England. Anyway, he came into the game in the second half on a substitution. Four minutes later he was free on an. . . . .it would be hypocritical of me to say “off side trap” because I haven't the faintest idea what the fuck that is. . .but whatever it was, he was free with the ball in front of the goal. The goal keeper was out, and a little juke laid him on the ground. Whereupon, Hernandez rolled one into the empty net.
High fives all around in Manolo's. A Mexican kid with superb dreads led all that. To his great credit, he included us gringos. A one-goal lead does wonders for international relations here.
Then the tension really took hold. It was soon very, very quiet. Not even any groans. What I saw was a Mexican team that continued to attack, however. No sitting on a lead and playing to lose. That's the way everyone else here saw it, too.
So then comes my man, the old man, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, into the game. I have to tell you something. In spite of my earlier cynism, I actually did mentally hope that he had obeyed the team injunction and had not had sex with that beautiful girlfriend since this thing started. I actually did hope that he had saved everything for the games.
I love to see old guys do well. Only two other players this old have appeared in the World Cup. This man is becoming the George Blanda of Mexican fútbol, and he rules the roost here. I have previously written on and on about his hunker-down style of play.
Sure enough, a foul in the box by France—a clear foul--claro infracción in Spanish--and Cuauhtémoc stepped up for the penalty shot. You cannot put it any closer to the inside of the left post without hitting it. Whew.
My people and I considered the game in the bag then, and we started to talk. You know, the fans' postmortems. Several orders for American cheeseburgers went into Casa Payo. Today, all that was not premature. No weeping with joy today though. Weeping must be a night game thing. Or a tequila thing.
The inevitable result of a big win here is that Mexicans pile into the back of flat bed trucks, and the trucks drive around town with the folks up back singing and blowing horns. I did not get a snapshot of one of these rigs. They were all up town. I could hear them up there.
Lots of Mexican flags sprout on the cars. When you encounter people on the street, it is no longer “buenas tardes” but rather “¡Viva México!." Old ladies. Kids. Everyone. Very cool actually. I truly enjoy it.
Later at five I picked up La Mexicana at the art gallery where she works. I chatted up the guards at the front gate. Those old boys were grim and all business. No dancing around and blowing horns for those guys. They had watched a lot of fútbol in their day. They liked this performance a lot, and they smell blood. No telling how many pieces of art were stolen while they watched the game. Uruguay on 22 June is going to be huge even if it is on a Tuesday morning.
Mexico City is up for grabs this evening. 100,000 people in the main square, the Zócalo.
Now all I need is for someone to explain to me why Mexico is not already locked into the next round after this win against France head-to-head. Apparently, Mexico needs to tie Uruguay in order to be sure of advancing.