CHICAGO - In a sea of green jerseys hundreds proudly cheered for Mexico here early Friday morning, June 11, at a local indoor soccer gym as the North American nation competed against South Africa in the much-anticipated opening game of the 2010 World Cup.
In the first half it appeared Mexico had the upper hand controlling the ball most of the period although they failed to score in several close attempts.
However in the second half South Africa came alive and made the first successful drive toward the goal scoring on Mexico.
Some thought the point was unfair.
"Mexico just got robbed," said viewer Marco Hernandez, 35, who works for a printing shop. South Africa is the host country so the officials gave the point to the team even though, according to Hernandez, the player who scored was off-sides.
At half time organizers of the viewing party held a contest with guests to see who could shout "Goooooal" the loudest and most creatively. Winners won framed autographed Mexico jerseys. The bustling rooms were crowded and consisted of mostly Mexican fans, men and women, young and old. The feeling was high-spirited, loud and exciting. But when South Africa scored, the rooms fell silent.
But Mexico came back and scored late in the second half. Neither team was able to execute offensively after that. Game one of the World Cup ended in a 1-1 tie.
"Growing up soccer was always part of my Mexican culture," said Hernandez. "It's the passion that we share."
Many said it's great that the World Cup is being played for the first time on African soil. It's a tremendous plus for the sport worldwide and especially for the African nations involved, they said.
Others said soccer is more than just a sport we enjoy: it's something we live for.
"It's the biggest tournament in the world next to the Olympics," said Miguel Angel Ramirez, a 35-year-old visual artist. Africa is "the cradle of humanity" and having the games in South Africa will boost its economy and help provide jobs, he said.
A highlight at the event was the special appearance of Pavel Pardo, a soccer legend from Mexico, who helped the team qualify for this year's World Cup. Pardo played in the 2006 games and is an active player with Club America in Mexico City.
The World Cup is an extraordinary opportunity and a great experience for players of the world to compete, said Pardo. It's a time when people can be proud of their country and support their national soccer players. Pardo said he has confidence Mexico will make it far this year.
"The World Cup is important for the entire world but it is also especially important for the South African people because it's in South Africa," said Pardo.
"Soccer and the World Cup unite people and it unites nations," he said. It's a time when countries support international solidarity, anti-racism and community empowerment, he said.
Fans say teams to watch are Argentina, Spain and Brazil.
"Only 32 teams are worthy of the World Cup and it will come down to one who will have bragging rights for the next four years," said Patricia Arreola, 26, who works for Illinois State University. Arreola has always loved soccer even before playing goalie for her high school team.
"Plus soccer usually has a lot of cute guys with nice legs," she adds jokingly.
It's a simple game that people can easily follow and it's perfect for families to watch on Sunday afternoons, said Arreola.
"The games will also allow South Africa to showcase its rich culture and the beauty of its people," she notes.
Jose Cuervo, a popular tequila maker, sponsored the early morning viewing party. Chi-Town Futbol, a large indoor soccer gym located in the predominantly Mexican community of Pilsen on the city's southwest side, hosted the event.
Jeff Welsh, Chi-Town Futbol owner said the venue was eight years in the making featuring 15 large plasma TVs and one big screen. He hopes his venue can become the Mexican headquarters for World Cup viewers in Chicago. The gym runs adult soccer leagues seven nights a week all year round and 95 percent of the customers are Latino, he said.
Photo: Pepe Lozano/PW