Mexico has lost. They are out of the World Cup. For the next 10 minutes, I will be absolutely inconsolable.
Here is a thing I don’t mind telling you because I believe it to be a phenomenon that is not only baked into the spirit of the World Cup, but also possibly the point of it for those who are not deeply invested in its outcome: Without the assistance of a phone or a laptop, I can confidently name only one and a half players who are on the Mexico national team, which was my very favorite team this World Cup.
I know Guillermo Ochoa is the goalie, but mostly I only know that because when I was a teacher I had a student named Guillermo Ochoa and so his name stuck in my head when I overheard it during Mexico’s game against Germany. And also I know there’s someone on the team named Lozano, though I have no idea what his first name is [Editor’s note: Hirving] or what his position is or even what he looks like, only that he played well this World Cup because someone said exactly that thing during the last bits of Monday’s Mexico-Brazil broadcast.
The only World Cup history stat I know about Mexico is that they have lost several tries [Editor’s note: SEVEN] in a row in the exact round that they lost in this time.
Beyond that, who even knows.
And still: During the final moments of Mexico’s 2-0 loss to Brazil, I felt myself crumbling. There was anger (WHY IS NEYMAR ACTING LIKE HE’S JUST HAD HIS FOOT SAWED OFF AT THE ANKLE?!?!?!?!) and frustration (JUST FUCKING SCORE A GOAL OR SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW PLEASE!!!!!) and a global sadness (WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO US?!?!?!?!). And yes, for sure, definitely, absolutely, I had no real reason (or honorable right) to feel any of those feelings, because honestly I didn’t even know that I was rooting for Mexico this World Cup until the qualified teams were announced and several people tweeted me or emailed me or texted me something like, “I’ll bet you were pretty excited that Mexico made it to the World Cup, huh?”
Because I am Mexican.
Or, I suppose more accurately: Mexican American.
Or should it be American Mexican?
I don’t know.
You get the point, though.
Both of my parents are Mexican (or Mexican American) (or possibly American Mexican), and I have mentioned it many times in many places that I am Mexican (or Mexican American) (or possibly American Mexican), and so that’s a thing people on the internet know about me, and so that’s why I received those messages, and also why I rooted for Mexico in the World Cup.
I like that part of it: that sort of microwaved patriotism; that sort of legacy allegiance; that sort of spiritual endowment. It’s fun to participate in. It’s fun to, almost instantly but still somehow intensely, become invested in a team (or teams), to pin your hopes and your aspirations to them, and then, should they lose, to forget about it entirely just a handful of minutes later.
It’s the lowest stakes of fandom, I suspect. During the highest stakes of sport, for sure.
Which is why it’s wildly fun and also wildly rewarding, too.
You get to experience all the upside of a team for whom you’ve begun insta-rooting for doing something good without the threat of having to feel like you’ve had your stomach sliced open and all your insides yanked out after they blow it or lose in what could otherwise be registered as heartbreaking, crushing, or devastating fashion.
The Spurs, for example, are the no. 1 team of my life. I have cheered for them since I was a child. As such, any horrible loss that they’ve experienced—Derek Fisher’s 0.4-second shot, Ray Allen’s Game 6 shot, etc.—was able to leverage that fan equity into real and true heartache; each of those losses crawled up into my cerebellum and camped out there for days, weeks, months after they happened.
That doesn’t happen to me with soccer, though, because I really watch it only once every four years. If a team I like wins, then great. If a team I like loses, then it’s whatever. I can just find a new team. And if that new team I like loses too, then I can just pick another, on and on, over and over, all the way up through the championship match. I am proud to say that I have correctly rooted for and predicted every World Cup champion for the past 20 years.
After Mexico lost to Brazil, I looked at the upcoming schedule, saw that Japan was playing Belgium next, and so I said, “Cool. I like several things related to Japan. I’ll root for them.” Then they got a gigantic hole blown through their chest during stoppage time of their game and for three minutes I was in shock, and then in that fourth minute I was looking at the upcoming schedule again, sniffing out a new team.
But so again: It’s the lowest stakes of fandom, I suspect. During the highest stakes of sport, for sure.
Probably the best example of it was: After Mexico lost to Sweden and were suddenly staring at what (I’m told) was going to be an almost impossibly difficult road to advancing to the round of 16, South Korea beat Germany in their match and so, through whatever scoring system it is that the World Cup utilizes to determine who advances and who doesn’t, Mexico automatically got moved into the next round.
Because of this, the Mexicans (and the Mexican-adjacent) were extremely grateful and appreciative of the Koreans (and the Korean-adjacent), which is why after the game was over and the Korean team had officially eliminated the German team and the Mexican team had officially advanced to the next round, videos started springing up on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook of groups of Mexicans (and the Mexican-adjacent) identifying Koreans (and the Korean-adjacent) and literally picking them up in the air and celebrating them.
(The best part is right at the end when the Korean man pumps his fist, then a Mexican man pulls him for a hug, and then the Korean man kisses him on the cheek.)
(It was the strongest the Mexican-Asian alliance has ever been during the centuries-long allyship, leaping into first place over the time when El Japo was in the Chicano prison gang in American Me.)
Sweden and Switzerland play on Tuesday. As do Colombia and England.
I desperately hope that Switzerland and Colombia are able to win, as I’ve been rooting for them both with all of my spirit and energy since about 15 minutes ago.
Which was five minutes after I got over my beloved Mexico’s loss.
The grief of which lasted 10 minutes.
The World Cup is beautiful.