Viva the World Cup; thousands watch game at Rady Shell

Argentina fans cheer their team as a second goal is scored in Saturday's World Cup game.
At The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, fans of Argentina soccer cheered as their team scored a second goal on team Mexico in the World Cup on Saturday.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

One of the biggest rivalries in the World Cup made for the biggest watch party in San Diego on Saturday as about 8,000 people packed into Rady Shell to watch Argentina take on Mexico.

“They’ve been our rival for a long time,” said Erik Gonzalez, 31, who came from Tijuana to cheer for Mexico. “They kicked us out of three World Cups.”

Gonzalez recalled that Argentina won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, making the competition that much more personal.

Argentina was heavily favored to win, but anything could have happened. In what was considered the biggest upset in World Cup history, the team lost their first game to Saudi Arabia 2-1 and would have been eliminated with a loss Saturday.

“They made it like a national holiday when Saudi Arabia beat Argentina,” Gonzalez said of the Middle Eastern country’s reaction to their win. “For us, it will be kind of like the same thing. It’ll be historic for sure.”

The game was important for both teams. Mexico had tied with Poland in their first game but would have had a harder time advancing to a knockout stage with a loss to Argentina.

While greatly outnumbered by Mexico fans, many Argentina supporters were in the section closest to the big screen at Rady Shell, and almost all seemed to be wearing their team’s blue and white striped jerseys.

“We are crazy,” said Argentina national Leila Lara, 25, who has been in San Diego for about six months for work. “The schools are closed. The markets are closed. We’re born, and we watch football.”

“I’m so excited,” said her friend Maqui Menboza, 26, also from Argentina. “I love to share football with my people.”

The pre-game excitement built until the 11 a.m. start of play. And then, nada. The first half passed with no score in a highly defensive game, and there were few moments to evoke cheers.

“We’re happy,” Mexico fan Carlos Manzanera, 36, said during the mid-game break. “Honestly, even a tie for us would be a win. That means we have a chance to make it to the next round.”

He traveled to Rady Shell from Tijuana with Erik Gonzalez and Luis Barragan. 37. Hundreds of people had gathered to watch the game in Tijuana broadcast from two big screens on Avenida Revolución, but the three friends wanted to be with an even bigger crowd of supporters.

 Hundreds of people gathered to watch the World Cup match with Mexico and Argentina in Tijuana on Saturday.
Hundreds of people gathered to watch the World Cup match with Mexico and Argentina in Tijuana on Saturday.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I’m happy with how the team is performing,” Barragan said. “I think it will be great for us if we win against Argentina, because they have the best player in the world.”

That would be Lionel Messi, whose name was on many of the Argentina jerseys worn by fans.

“I love Messi,” Mexico fan and San Marcos resident Enrique Gutierrez, 60, said in respect for the star player. “I hope he comes in second place.”

The second half of the game continued without a goal until about the 63 minute mark, when Messi scored. Argentina fans shot to their feet, waved the country’s flag, danced and chanted his name.

“That magical left foot,” the games announcer said. “King Lionel does it again.”

Mexico fans were not deflated, and about 20 minutes later were chanting “Mex-i-co, Mex-i-co!” Shortly before the 90-minute mark, however, Enzo Fernandez made the second goal for Argentina, and some Mexico fans began heading for the exit.

Maria Gonzalez from San Ysidro maintains hope for team Mexico after the first goal by Argentina.
Maria Gonzalez from San Ysidro maintains hope for team Mexico after the first goal by Argentina.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Chula Vista resident and Argentina national Silvia Martin said she was a little nervous because of the team’s loss to Saudi Arabia but thought they got their confidence back as soon as play started.

“I’m very happy for them, although I have empathy for the Mexican team, too,” said Martin who has lived in the U.S. for 45 years. “All of my friends are Mexican, actually. Now I have to get together with them and have a little conversation, a peaceful conversation. I already told them we are going to be friends no matter what.”

Carlos De Alba, 25, came from Chula Vista with about 15 friends and family members to cheer for Mexico, and was in good spirits after the game despite the loss.

“I think they played really well,” he said. “They had 70 minutes of really impressive play. I was hoping they sneak one out and win one, but it’s hard to beat Messi and that Argentina squad. But they held their own for a while.”

Mexico faces Saudi Arabia in their next match and Argentina will play Poland. The four teams are in Group C and play one another in a round-robin format, earning three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss.

After Saturday’s game, Poland has 4 points, Argentina and Saudi Arabia have 3 each and Mexico 1. The top two teams from each group advance to a knockout game, and then face teams from another group.