A Sunny Sunday in Mexico

June 11: It’s a clear, sunny Sunday afternoon. Mexico City is full of tricolor emblems — green, white, and red like the flag — and the sound of horns and all kinds of noisemakers delivering a triple blast: ME-XI-CO. The ceremonial sites of Mexican history (the Angel of Independence in the middle of Paseo de la Reforma; the central square called the Zócalo, which is still the heart of the country just as it was in pre-Hispanic times) are full of euphoric people celebrating the Mexican selection’s 3-1 victory against Iran. It’s an innocent celebration that unites Mexicans regardless of their differences.

My sons (31 and 23, respectively) traveled to Germany to see the team. The Nuremberg stadium, with a capacity of 40,000, held at least 25,000 Mexicans who cheered each pass by the Mexican players with a characteristic “olé,” as if the rival team were a bull that a nimble bullfighter had turned with a flick of the cape. The team struggled in the first half, finishing in a 1-1 tie, but its Argentinean coach Ricardo La Volpe, a clever strategist, made two substitutions in the second half that completely modified the approach, setting the stage for victory. The peace of mind that comes with a victorious first match should help Mexico face Angola and then Portugal. If Mexico makes it to the second round, any sensible Mexican can feel satisfied; but this is a time for dreaming, not being sensible. There are plenty who believe Mexico will win the World Cup.

I had more than one reason to fervently wish for the defeat of the Iranian team. It happens that the president of Iran had promised to travel to Germany if its players triumphed in their first match. I applaud their defeat not because I wish the hardworking Iranian players ill, but because it’s good to present a fanatic like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with proof that his sense of infallibility is unwarranted — even if it’s on the sports field.

I’d like it if the Mexican selection made it to the next round, causing patriotic joy (which knows no class barriers) to sweep like a refreshing wave across the country. It would be a good rejoinder to the politicians who foster discord in this country, a country plagued by needs and problems, but whose deep unity there is no reason to question. It’s true that soccer doesn’t solve anything. It’s true that soccer (like any sport) is only a game. But there is a spark of fellowship and humor in humankind’s capacity for play that fanatics — those solemn, angry beings — hate.

Publicado en el blog "Kicking and Screaming" de The New York Times, 13 de junio de 2006.

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