From funeral to a fiesta!

Fans of Mexico agonize, celebrate with their team

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2018 World Cup

While watching with several of his family members in their Fiesta Cancun Mexican restaurant, Israel Garcia was happy to talk about Mexico, his “go-to team” at the 2018 World Cup, during halftime of its final Group F match against Sweden on Wednesday morning.

After all, El Tri, the nickname of the Mexican National Team, was 2-0 after winning its first two matches in group play — including a 1-0 first-round defeat of defending  champion Germany. Mexico had looked solid in the scoreless first half against Sweden and El Tri only needed a tie to advance to the round of 16.

“I think it’s a team effort and how they all communicate,” Garcia, a rising junior and soccer player at Hunt High, said of Mexico’s success in the World Cup at that point. “It’s not a one-person team, it’s a whole team just like it should be. I think the whole team’s playing good and that’s how it’s supposed to be. I think their defense is really strong.”

However, what had begun as a celebration of Mexico’s imminent advance to the elimination round turned downright gloomy at Fiesta Cancun in the second half.

The dozen or so supporters of El Tri, nearly all restaurant employees whose shift hadn’t started, watched in disbelief as their team gave up one goal after another against Sweden.

The fiesta was quickly becoming a funeral.

But with the Swedes up 3-0, Mexico needed some help from an unlikely source — South Korea — if it wanted to reach the round of 16 for the seventh straight World Cup.

And it came just in time. Germany, which needed to beat South Korea to advance, became the fourth straight defending World Cup champion to not advance past the group stage. South Korea scored a goal in added time and then added an empty-net goal for an unbelievable 2-0 victory.

Much to the relief of its fans at Fiesta Cancun, Mexico would advance to the round of 16 where it would meet five-time Cup champion Brazil on Monday.

Garcia was stunned by the turn of events.

“No, I didn’t really think that (Germany would lose) but I guess anything can happen in the World Cup,” he said as he tightened his apron strings. “But I’m happy with the results of going to the round of 16. Second place, we’re going against Brazil, but you know, we beat Germany so anything can happen.”

His cousin and fellow waiter, Esteban Garcia, said that he nearly lost it when Mexico was being pummeled by Sweden.

“Oh, I was about to flip the whole table and take off my shirt!” he said. “I’m just at a loss for words right now. I’m speechless. What I can tell is that I’ve still got faith. I’ve still got faith!”

His uncle, Fiesta Cancun owner Jose Garcia, walked by and chirped with a grin, “Viva Mexico!”

The early morning starting times for most of the World Cup games have lessened the impact on area restaurants, including Fiesta Cancun. However, Jose Garcia said that Mexico’s game Saturday against South Korea drew a nice crowd.

Regardless of the number of customers, there are enough members of the extended Garcia family to fill half the bar area where the big screen television is.

While they were relieved Mexico advanced, Israel Garcia and his cousins offered some advice for El Tri head coach Juan Carlos Osorio going forward.

“They put the same 11 people out there,” Israel said. “I think they should have put different people in because we played like that the same for two games. I think we just need to work on our defense and we just can’t keep it with the same people.”

His cousin, Alex Ibarra, agreed.

“They have to make better decisions with the players they put in, especially Chicharito,” he said of star forward Javier Hernandez. “He makes too many mistakes.”

But the important thing is that El Tri won to fight again in this World Cup.

“But to go to the round of 16 is a relief,” Israel said. “We’re at least going. We’re going to make history.”