Unbelievably good news! The national fútbol team won an Olympic gold medal last Saturday for the first time ever, beating Brazil (Brazil!) 2-1. (OK, the news is not all that good if you happen to be a Brazilian, but Brazil has had more than its share of good soccer news over the years.)
And otherwise, these are not happy times in Mexico. There is precious little good news that comes out of México lindo y querido these days.
Last spring’s purchased presidential election is still disputed and unresolved; decent, formal-sector jobs are still hard to find; narcos are still killing each other in grisly ways and hanging each other from municipal bridges; the price of tortillas is still rising. But for four or five days last week, Mexicans talked mainly about fútbol. The national soccer team (limited, by Olympic agreement, to players under 23 years of age plus three selected players of any age) played for the Olympic gold on Saturday morning.
The national team is known as the Tricolor—El Tri for short—same as the flag, same as the once-and-future ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), same as a popular rock group known for its irreverence toward all things sacred (like flags, ruling parties, and national teams.)
The team is called “El Tri” because they normally wear green, white, and red, the colors of the national flag, which is also called “ El Tri.” The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the party that ruled Mexico for 70 years with only symbolic opposition, is also nicknamed the TRI, just to (deliberately) highlight its once-total identification with the Mexican state and its determination to incorporate everything in its path.
El Tri (the party) is still fighting to hold on to the official results of the July 1 presidential election it had won (or bought) under questionable circumstances. El Tri (the team), had, for the first time in history, advanced to the final round of the Olympic soccer tournament. Alex Lora, lead singer of El Tri (the rock group), continues to shout Pancho Villa’s Viva México cabrones! and the tricolored flag keeps flying gracefully over the National Palace.
In London, last Saturday afternoon (nine in the morning in most of Mexico), the team would face the world’s natural and traditional soccer champs, Brazil. This was captivating news, leading horns to honk, fireworks to flare, kids to shout, and bars to offer two tequilas for the price of one for the nine in the morning game.
Octavio Paz once wrote that after two centuries of dashed hopes and disappointments, Mexicans had lost faith in everything save the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery. He might have added the national fútbol team. “When the team wins,” says my friend Pepe, “we have won.”
The build-up began when Mexico and Brazil won their semi-final games earlier in the week. “We’re guaranteed the silver,” says Pepe, long accustomed to losing, “so we will celebrate no matter what.” Getting to the finals was a miracle he tells me, but two miracles in a row “would be too much to pray for.” Even with the Virgin of Guadalupe on our side? “The Guadalupana has always been with us,” he replies, “and look where we are.” But like with the national lottery, you buy your ticket knowing you’re going to lose, so the disappointment has already been cushioned. And when you win… how lovely. In Brazil, by contrast, accustomed to winning (the team has won five World Cups but, curiously, never an Olympic gold), nothing would be celebrated short of a victory.
In the first minute of the game, before we have even poured our nine o’clock cup of coffee, Mexican forward Oribe Peralta receives a pass, dribbles around a couple of Brazilians and drills a perfect kick into the lower left-hand corner of the Brazilian goal. Could this be real! Mexico adds a nicely coordinated corner kick/header in the second half and Brazil scores its only goal in the referee’s extra time. Two to one!
Faith, says Pepe, “exists for its own sake, but it’s nice when it actually comes through. And sometimes it just takes some time for faith to work its way out.”
And sometimes it works its way out in strange and contradictory ways. Just four days later, El Tri, playing on its home field, Estadio Azteca, lost a friendly game to the United States, 1-0. “But,” says another good friend, “we still have the gold.”
For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested.