x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mexico’s Olympic dream was realised ... can they repeat it

Despite qualifying for 15 finals Mexico have never got further than the last eight. But beating the mighty Brazil in London two years ago to win the gold medal has made the fans optimistic for more glory.

Excited fans: Ana Tendero, Francisco Alonso, Tamer Magdy, Arturo Rueda, Dalia Tapia, Oscar Rodriquez, Nawal Boulos. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Excited fans: Ana Tendero, Francisco Alonso, Tamer Magdy, Arturo Rueda, Dalia Tapia, Oscar Rodriquez, Nawal Boulos. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // While Mexico have a solid World Cup record – they have now qualified for 15 tournaments and played hosts to the event twice – they have never made it further than the quarter-finals.

However, a gold medal won at the London Olympics two year ago has made their fans quietly optimistic.

One of their many avid supporters in the UAE is Dalia Tapia, who teaches at Al Jazeera kindergarten in Abu Dhabi. “I love football, I play every time I have a chance. It is part of Mexican culture, you grow up with it,” she said.

As well as playing football, she also supports many clubs, including Club America in Mexico City, the Chicago Fire in the US, and Abu Dhabi’s Al Jazira.

Ms Tapia was inspired to play football by the US women’s football star Mia Hamm. “Mia Hamm influences a lot of women in the US. She started an initiative to get women in the sport.”

Every member of Ms Tapia’s family is passionate about football.

“My memories of the World Cup involve getting together with the family and watching Mexico play. And then being let down by the team,” she said.

Another fan, Andrea Zepeda, 23, a waitress at Tortuga restaurant in Mina A’Salam hotel in Dubai, also reminisced.

“I remember when I was in elementary and junior high school, the teachers set up a projector and we would sit and watch Mexico play,” she said. “All classes were cancelled until the end of the game.”

Tortuga will be staying open late to show all the World Cup matches, with Spanish commentary.

“I will be working and trying to watch Mexico play, as will most of the staff I think,” said Ms Zepeda.

Ms Tapia wants to experience that stadium feeling. “I plan to go to du Arena to watch the games on the big screen together with my fellow Mexico supporters. We will cheer together, cry together, be there for each other.”

Everyone has a ritual they follow when their team play, she said. “You put on the team colours and T-shirt. But I’m not going to tell you what I do, that is a secret.”

Heritage and culture is very important to the Mexican community. “We have five or six different cultural events a year, mostly in summer,” said Ms Tapia. “They are arranged by a member of the community here to help us keep in touch with our culture, heritage, language and lifestyle. For the children it is very important to know your roots.

“We are all over the UAE, but no matter where you are in the world, Mexican families instil in you these solid foundations so you don’t lose your sense of identity,” she added.

Mexico will kick off their 2014 World Cup campaign against Cameroon, a game many of their supporters were expecting to win.

“Mexico always have a good beginning, but a not a good ending,” said Ms Tapia. “You get so passionate about the game it makes you cry. You wish that ball hadn’t just gone over the crossbar, it could’ve gone in. Mexico are always there in the World Cup – but always lose.

“Being a supporter of Mexico, you have to be prepared to have your emotions used like a yo-yo. But it’s more down than up.”

But the team’s Olympic gold medal – they beat Brazil 2-1 at Wembley in the final – has given them fresh hope.

“We’re counting on the local team players who won the Olympics. Mexico won that, and it was a big international tournament, so why not now? They were able to beat Brazil, so we have a very good chance,” said Ms Tapia, who had planned to go to the World Cup, but could not due to work commitments.

The Mexican embassy in Abu Dhabi is expecting some members of the community to come and watch the team’s games.

But Ms Tapia says she hasn’t yet decided where to watch it. “Wherever it is, we will gather with a big group of Mexicans,” she said. “I just hope they move forward and do better than previous years.

“I will keep praying and hoping for them. Let us cheer for them, let us enjoy the journey, because, after all, it is just a game. Let’s not take it too seriously.”

malkhan@thenational.ae

* Mexico v Cameroon, (Friday, 8pm UAE time; Live on beIN Sport)