Mexico's bars and cantinas were packed to the rafters Thursday for the country's semi-final clash with the Netherlands at Peru 2005. The wave of euphoria generated by El Tri's victory is swelling by the day and threatens to engulf the entire country when they take on Brazil in the Final this Sunday.
By 3.30pm Thursday afternoon, it was standing room only in bars and cafés all across Mexico. With the game only being broadcast on satellite TV, huge swathes of the population were obliged to make their way to public establishments. This proved no deterrent to enterprising fans, nor did the fact that kick-off came during office hours.
Despite the unusual time of the Mexico-Netherlands game, it proved an irresistible draw for millions of fans, who sensed correctly that history was in the making. The U-17 stars that have the entire country dreaming were about to play the biggest game of their lives, and everyone, it seemed, wanted to be with them.
By the time the game kicked off at four in the afternoon, shouts of "Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co" could be heard on every corner. Not even a tricky opening period that saw the Dutch in the ascendancy could dampen the supporters' spirits or optimism.
There was a collective sigh of disbelief after 12 minutes when, after a wonderful combination with Carlos Vela, César Villaluz's shot cannoned off the crossbar. "He's with Cruz Azul, isn't he?", one fan asked another, showing the enormous interest in a squad of players that have gone from almost complete unknowns to household names in the space of ten days.
Shortly afterwards Villaluz got another bite of the cherry and this time made no mistake. "Goooooal!" screamed the delirious fans in unison after the little midfielder powered a searing right-foot drive into the corner of the Netherlands's goal. "That's it, we're in the Final", a few optimistic voices chimed. Others, no doubt remembering past disappointments, urged caution: "We need to be careful. This always happens to us and we always end up disappointed. Better to be patient." An understandable sentiment given the perception among many Mexicans that Lady Luck abandons the national team just when it needs it most.
On this occasion, their fears proved unfounded. The decibel level in bars and restaurants across the country was cranked up even further when Mexico grabbed a second after a majestic assist by Giovani Dos Santos. Such was the impression created by the Barcelona starlet that on more than one occasion fans were heard to say: "That kid should be in the squad for Germany."
The mood became more edgy as the Dutch pushed hard to get back in the game. Such was the tension that people momentarily stopped talking and drinking as they stared transfixed at the screen. The relief among the gathered fans was palpable when Netherlands striker Biseswar missed a sitter with the goal at his mercy. The disbelief was such that the commentator actually shouted goal for several seconds before he realised that the chance had been spurned. Cries of "no impossible" were quickly followed by comments like, "If that one didn't go in, then nothing will."
The forecast proved correct and Mexico's goal remained intact. In fact, it was the Europeans who finished up on the receiving end late on, with their defence breached twice more before the final whistle. Cries of "Mexico, Mexico" filled the air, accompanied by defiant chants of "bring on Brazil".
A national fiesta in full flow at six in the evening. Who would have thought it ten days ago when frustrated fans had to trawl the cities' bars to find one showing their opening game against Uruguay? Now the interest is such that the country's terrestrial networks have bought the rights to broadcast the final. Expectancy is at an all-time high and the country looks certain to grind to a halt on Sunday to see if this amazing group of youngsters can fulfil the dreams of a nation that has so often stumbled at the final hurdle.
The morning after the night before
After the game on Thursday, Mexico's president Vicente Fox told reporters: "I was handed a piece of paper with the result on it and was thrilled to see we had won." The following day he broke off from a trade mission in Canada to telephone the players to personally offer his congratulations. "I'm sure they will go on to win as they are very well prepared. They move the ball well and are great to watch," the head of state added enthusiastically.
Meanwhile, the country's newspapers gave free rein to their emotions in describing the team's march to the final. Without exception, the story made front-page news, with the sports dailies gleefully reporting on the triumph in minute detail.
"WE'RE IN THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL!" screamed the headline in La Afición, which called upon all Mexicans to "shout it to the heavens" and "say it loud and proud". Meanwhile, Ovaciones led with "And Now For The Final", calling the all-conquering youngsters "Los Niños Héroes" (The Boy Heroes), a reference to the six teenagers who, as legend has it, defended their country from the invading US forces in 1847. All around, there was a sense of optimism in the air like never before. Now, with their national team standing just 90 minutes away from their first world title, the question on everyone's lips is: could this finally be Mexico's moment?