The choice of Torreon as one of the host cities of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 took some by surprise. After all, this small urban centre in the central area of Mexico has a population of no more than 1.5 million. But what it lacks in size, Torreon more than makes up for with its passion for the beautiful game.
Local outfit Santos Laguna are one of the top sides in the country's first division, and over the last 15 years one of its most successful, winning the league title on three occasions and performing consistently well in the Copa Libertadores. Small wonder, then, that locals are so infatuated with football – and keen for any distraction from the searing heat of Torreon, where daytime temperatures can top 40 degrees.
A die-hard supporter sums up the atmosphere: “When the team’s playing, the whole town gets up early and prepares. We put on Santos green and head over to the stadium, where we take our places and start roaring our boys on to victory.”
Torreon is perfectly set up for football. Santos Laguna’s home ground, Estadio Corona, was completed in 2009. The state-of-the-art facility accommodates 30,000 fans in unique balconied terraces, and the four practice pitches situated around the main arena allow the club to nurture future generations of local talent and keep the legend of Santos Laguna alive.
Speaking of local legends, the club can boast a number of Mexico internationals among its former stars. Most famous of all is striker Jared Borgetti, who netted a memorable spinning headed strike in Mexico’s 1-1 draw with Italy at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. His name alone was responsible for bringing thousands of new fans flocking to the ground. As one supporter puts it: “No one did more to keep up attendance at the club than Borgetti. When he left us there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
The city has a great reputation for being football friendly, but how would it fare as a host city at the FIFA U-17 World Cup? The answer came in the first round of contests in Group D, with the locals turning out in their numbers to see New Zealand take on Uzbekistan and USA play Czech Republic. Inspiring the teams with their passion and enthusiasm, the football lovers of Torreon were rewarded with eight goals and an acknowledgment from Czech coach Josef Csaplar: “I’m disappointed with the loss, but I feel pleased that we managed to put on an attacking display that entertained the crowd and satisfied their expectations.”
US coach Wilmer Cabrera also had words of praise for the home town crowd: “It’s true that they chose to support the Czech Republic during the match, but when the final whistle blew, everyone stood to their feet and cheered the winning team. It shows a true awareness of the game and the right spirit; they saluted the team’s effort after they had won. We hope we can continue to keep them happy.”
With their obvious passion for the game, the citizens of Torreon are in for further treats as the Estadio Corona is scheduled to host some thrilling match-ups, including a Group C clash between England and Uruguay, followed by a second-round contest between the winner of Group D and an as yet undecided third-placed opponent. But best of all, on 7 July, Torreon will witness the second of the two semi-finals of Mexico 2011.