Catching World Cup Fever

Mexican-born Harry Flores supports “El Tri.” (Photo via El Diario)

Less than 24 hours before the whistle was blown to kick off the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and despite the 4,680 miles separating New York and Moscow, “fútbol” was in the air all over the Big Apple’s Hispanic neighborhoods, making Russia feel a bit closer.

At 116th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, where many Mexicans live, the support for the Aztec team is quite evident. Unlike in previous years, there are still few street vendors selling World Cup-themed merchandise in sight. However, Euromex Soccer, a store that since 2008 has become a holy land for fans seeking to buy their team’s outfit, is brimming with people who live and breathe soccer.

“It used to be a bit slow but people have not stopped coming for the past two weeks,” said Jaime Flores, the owner of the sports shop, adding that the fans’ favoritism for El Tri – the Mexican team – is inescapable. “Right now, what they are buying a lot are the jerseys to show their support for their team, and Mexico is the one selling the most. We are hoping to at least make it to the fifth match [quarterfinals]. People are also buying quite a few of the Peruvian, Colombian and Argentinean teams’ shirts.”

Lola Rojas, born in Tlaxcala and an employee at the store, said that in addition to the jerseys and flags, fans tend to buy hats and posters of their favorite teams. Although she thinks any of the 32 squads in the worldwide competition may win, she is praying to the saints for her team to prevail.

“I have been wearing the jersey since Thursday, and I am not planning to take it off. I have a collection and I know that it is going to be hard to win given the group we are in but if Mexico makes it, I am definitely going to celebrate with tequila, like a good Mexican,” said the young woman.

Such is the passion soccer unleashes among Hispanics that even kids share the excitement for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That includes fans whose home teams did not qualify.

“I love fútbol and I am sad Chile is not in Russia but I am going to watch the games and when my brother and I grow up, we are going to be professional soccer players and we are going to be on the Chilean team in the World Cup someday,” said David Fritis, the charismatic child of a Chilean father and Puerto Rican mother.

David and Johnatan Fritis, with their mother, Daisy. (Photo via El Diario)

His mom, Daisy Rosario, admitted that she was not a fan but caught fútbol fever when she got married and had her kids.

“They have taught me what it’s about and now I enjoy watching the matches so I am going to have to be aware of what is going on in Russia for them,” said Puerto Rican-born Rosario.

Selling “Russian gorditas”

Still, the excitement for the sport goes beyond the jerseys and hats. A few blocks from the “fútbol temple,” Porfiria Suárez, who sells tacos, tamales, quesadillas and gorditas at a stand in front of a store, said that she wants Mexico to give a good performance but also is hoping for her customers to increase during the monthlong event.

“Let’s see if more people will come by to eat. The problem is that because most matches are in the morning, many people will choose to watch at home,” said the head of household, who has even started to think up a strategy to attract more customers.

“I may come up with the ‘Russian gordita,’ which already has the colors of the flag from the ingredients I put in it, so I can be in style too,” joked the Mexican vendor.

Mexican Porfiria Suárez is hoping for her clientele to increase. (Photo via El Diario)

On the other side of the Big Apple, in Jackson Heights, Queens, World Cup fever is even more palpable. There are a number of places selling shirts, caps and keychains, and the establishments where soccer is usually broadcast have begun promoting the upcoming matches.

Samuel Navarro, the manager of Romance Bar on Roosevelt Avenue, is hoping to welcome many spectators looking to watch the games but he admits that the time difference with Russia will take away from the fútbol party atmosphere.

“Here, the rule is to sell liquor after noon, so because so many of the matches are early, I don’t think people will show up. But we are going to show the reruns; people will celebrate anyway,” said Navarro, born in Mexico.

The bar where Sofía Moreno works – she is rooting for the Spanish team – has a solution. “We are going to sell juices instead of beer at that time. The important thing is to watch the matches, and I know that Spain will shine, particularly with [player Andrés] Iniesta there,” said Moreno, who is Colombian.

Her compatriot Ana Barrero, from the town of Letizia, in the Colombian Amazon, said that she is loyal to her country’s team until the end, adding that she is certain that the squad, led by [striker] James Rodríguez, will go beyond the quarterfinals, where it got in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“This year is going to be Colombia’s year. They look committed and they give it their all when they play,” said the young woman.

Ana and Sofía, both Romance Bar waitresses born in Colombia, will serve juice instead of beer during the World Cup. (Photo via El Diario)

Buenos Aires native Emiliano Firenzi disagrees. “At this World Cup, Argentina is finally going to take the cup. The rest of them are a bunch of boludos [idiots],” he said. The Argentinean works at an office in Manhattan and is not afraid to say publicly that he will not go to work on the days his team plays, “with or without permission, because fútbol is my religion.”

Rosy Martínez, a mother from Peru, says that she is the daughter of her country’s team because she was born 36 years ago, the last time the Inca team went to a World Cup. She added that the celebration will be doubled.

“In my house we have everything ready to eat a Peruvian breakfast and everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, will be wearing [striker] Paolo Guerrero’s jersey because we know that if we are united, we will win,” said Martínez, adding that this year Russia will not be speaking German when the trophy is raised but rather a little Quechua, Spanish and Aymara. “Peru will win and Brazil will come in second, you just wait and see.”

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