x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pilot who hopes Mexico will be flying high in South Africa

Jorge de Anda, a Mexican pilot living in Dubai, remembers wanting to live in the UAE ever since 1989, when he first started flying over the country's unspoilt beaches.

Pablo Mangino, a pilot with Etihad Airways, wears his Mexican football team uniform and waves his country's flag.
Pablo Mangino, a pilot with Etihad Airways, wears his Mexican football team uniform and waves his country's flag.

Jorge de Anda, a Mexican pilot living in Dubai, remembers wanting to live in the UAE ever since 1989, when he first started flying over the country's unspoilt beaches. He was working in Singapore in the mid-1980s and promised himself that he would one day work for Emirates airline. "It was a really nice place, and I always said, when we finish our job in Singapore, I will look for a job in the Emirates," says Mr de Anda, 49.

He was among the first pilots from Mexico to land in the country in 1994. Today, about 55 other pilots from his homeland operate planes out of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, according to the Mexican consulate in Dubai. Mr de Anda hopes that Mexico's footballers will soar next Friday as they open the World Cup against tournament hosts South Africa. "We are going to be flying high," says Mr de Anda. "I see the Mexican team getting better by the day."

Mr de Anda hopes that his countrymen will be the first to beat a host nation in the opening match of a World Cup and advance through to the knock-out stage of the tournament. The Mexican Consulate in Dubai estimates that 800 Mexicans live in the UAE. But not all of them feel so confident about their team's chances. "To be honest, I think we are lost," says Manuel Morales, 40, a salesman for a Mexican food product supplier in the UAE. "They are not playing together as a team."

The nation has a proud footballing history, having hosted the World Cup twice and reaching the finals 13 times. For Mexicans living here, memories of the 1986 World Cup are still fresh in their minds. "I remember everything," says Pablo Mangino, 36, a pilot with Etihad Airways who was 13 at the time. He can list the opponent and scores in every match Mexico played in up until their penalty shoot-out loss to West Germany in the quarter-finals. He also remembers watching on television as the Argentine Diego Maradona - now his national team's coach - scored two of the most memorable goals in World Cup history.

His first goal against England came about when he punched the ball in with his hand. Moments later, he dribbled half the pitch before scoring. "I remember the goal of Maradona with the hand. Everybody saw that except the referee. Then the second goal during that match was the best goal in the Azteca Stadium," says Mr Mangino, who has lived in the UAE for three years. Mr Morales and Mr de Anda both attended matches during the 1986 World Cup. Mr Morales saw Mexico beat Belgium 2-1 in the group stages and Mr de Anda witnessed several matches from a private box in the Azteca Stadium.

"That was the highlight of my whole life," says Mr de Anda, who was then 25. "We were flying for Air Mexico then. We were young, full of energy, watching the real World Cup in your own country." This is Mexico's fifth successive World Cup appearance, so it is familiar territory for the team's supporters. Mr de Anda can say with confidence that the "country stops" when Mexico are playing, though he will be in South Africa for the tournament opener, as well as to see Mexico take on France.

In the UAE, Mr Morales and Mr Mangino will be watching together, with other Mexicans in Dubai, hoping that their team will rise to the occasion. @Email:mchung@thenational.ae