In the world of dynamic duos, you’d probably put Batman & Robin at the top, followed by Burt & Ernie, Thelma & Louise, Rick James & Charlie Murphy, peanut butter & jelly, and Tom & Jerry. How far down the list do you have to go to find Mexico & Korea?
Before Wednesday, this partnership was preposterously unheard of in the sports world. After the whooping Mexico laid on Korea last Saturday, I figured there’d be a better chance of getting Shaq and Kobe on a court together before fans of Mexico and Korea would get along.
But, when Mexico was facing a possible World Cup elimination at the hands of Sweden on Wednesday morning, Korea scored two against Germany in the 92nd and 95th minutes of injury time to grant Mexico a pass onto the Knockout Stage of the 2018 World Cup.
We here at the Weekly spent Wednesday morning checking out the Olde Ship, named as one of the Weekly’s 14 Places to Watch the 2018 World Cup. Every booth was filled by the games 7AM kick-off as innumerable lime-green team Mexico jerseys noisily crowded between tables and up against the dark wood paneled walls of the Olde Ship. People happily shouted for beer over the bar counter, while servers and bartenders tried hopelessly to maneuver drinks through the narrow walkways choked with futbol fans in green.
To facilitate watching, a half dozen flatscreen TVs were hung around the bar, with every anxious eye fixed on them.
Knowing more about the surface of the moon than futbol, I set about photographing the surging green crowd, and trying to learn the sport. I knew two things: soccer was played with the feet, and we wanted Mexico to win. Nearly an hour after kickoff, my ignorance of the sport nearly caused my day to come to a tragic halt.
At halftime, the score was 0-0. Neither Mexico nor Sweden could take a commanding lead, though Mexico seemed to be playing with energy. Before Wednesday, Mexico was riding high with a triumphant 1-0 win over Germany a week before, and a 2-1 win over Korea that practically sealed their chances of advancing.
All Mexico needed to do was beat Sweden 1-0 to cement their place atop Group F, and advance.
But Sweden had other plans.
After the Swedes were dealt a heinous 2-1 loss to Germany on Saturday, they needed a win over Mexico to avoid elimination.
Before the game, Swedish coach Janne Andersson was confident his team could take, “El Tri,” from Mexico. Andersson told reporters, “They are fast and technically gifted. We respect them as opponents. We are not going to be surprised by them. We know they are good team. We are ready to play them and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
A little after half-time, I ordered a cup of coffee from a frantic grey-haired waitress, who nearly didn’t return with my drink. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with a short, round cheeked man standing beside me.
“Sweden’s spending more time on the ground with those fake injuries than playing,” I said. He laughed and agreed. He explained that they were trying to waste time, and that if they drew the right foul and got a penalty kick, the game could be over.
Minutes later, we watched in terror as Sweden’s Ludwig Augustinsson drilled a lobbed pass off the hand of Mexico’s goal keeper, Guillermo Ochoa, and into the back of Mexico’s net.
A brief, unanimous, “Aww,” rang across the Olde Ship, before the room fell silent. The energy in the bar went from excited, to nervously determined.
If Sweden won, and Germany lost, Mexico still had a shot. But if Germany beat Korea as expected, Mexico would be sent home. Eliminated. S.O.L.
My friend reassured me that everything would be fine. “Chicharito will pull through,” he said. “There’s a reason that he’s the greatest Mexican player of all-time. He’s the all-time World Cup goal scorer for Mexico, trust me he’ll come through.”
“Let’s hope so,” I said. Around the bar, every green jersey was hunched forward in anticipation. After Augustinsson’s goal, all smiles became gritting teeth.
Ten minutes later, every eye in the bar was scowling at me.
Without knowing it, I’d cheered just as Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist scored off a penalty kick.
“But, I was just cheering because I finally got my coffee,” I said to the short, round cheeked guy I’d been talking to. He only shook his head in disgust and walked away, as if to say, “You’re on your own, no mames!”
Growing up in a home of Yankees fans, I learned one cardinal rule: never upset a sports fan when their team is losing. The only thing more dangerous than an upset sports fan, is a bar full of upset sports fans.
Sweden had taken a 2-0 lead, and if Germany scored one goal against Korea, Mexico would be eliminated. And, if they were eliminated, I might be too.
But, my luck was about to change. Though Mexico had gone down 3-0 off a self-inflicted goal, team Korea was about to give El Tri a second chance.
Halfway around the world in Russia, Korea’s Kim Young-gwon scored a controversial goal in the 92nd minute.
Out of the huddle of green jerseys in the Olde Ship, a chant of, “South Ko-re-a,” erupted. Seeing my chance for redemption, I eagerly joined the chant. Hope was restored for Mexico, and me.
Minutes later, Korea’s Son Heung-min scored the insurance goal to give Korea a 2-0 lead, just as time expired.
Although Mexico had lost 3-0, they’d still managed to win–by default. With that, a most unlikely duo of the South Korean team and Mexican team was born.
A few hundred miles away, in Mexico City, thousands of fans who were watching the match on a projector in the city’s central square–the Zocalo–rushed to the South Korean embassy to celebrate.
As South Korea’s consul general, Han Byoung-jin, walked out to greet the crowd outside the embassy, he was handed a shot of tequila and hoisted onto the shoulders of elated fans.
Ecstatic fans chanted, “Coreano! Hermano! Ya eres Mexicano!” “Korean brother! Now you are Mexican!,” as they carried Byoung-jin through the street.
Mexico will play Brazil at 7AM this upcoming Monday in the first round of elimination. Call out sick, and watch the game at your local pub to support Mexico.