It’s never easy to play against the home nation in a World Cup opener, and despite scores of missed chances, Mexico nearly choked against South Africa in a game that surely turned Ciudad de Mexico and chunks of New York into likely venues for a collective heart attack.
For World Cup 2010’s opening match, I went down to Corona, Queens, home of a sizable Mexican population that can enjoy everything from Mexican supermarkets to lunches at Pollo Campero. For a second, I thought I was back in Guatemala City.
Following advice from the Wall Street Journal, I stopped at Tortilleria Nixtamal, on 47th Avenue. Surely enough, this was the spot to be: it had a patio, warm tortillas, tamales, fresh papaya, and eager football fans. Not as many as I would have expected for a World Cup opener, but those who came out most certainly made up for the ones that were probably watching from somewhere at work.
Fernando Ruiz, the owner of Nixtamal, started out confident. Two minutes into the game, his prediction went from 3-1 to 5-1 in Mexico’s favor. And good efforts from Dos Santos in particular made it seem like it was only a matter of time until Mexico would silence some South African vuvuzelas. The patrons of Nixtamal went crazy over a 38th minute canceled goal from Vela. But, it was not meant to be. The first half came and went with neither team having scored.
During half time, Nando entertained me and Wall Street Journal’s Michael Rubenstein with a mini tour of his facility. The man has a tortilla making factory in his basement, and appears to be one of the only if not the only man on the eastern seaboard who actually makes his tortillas from fresh masa. He has corn shipped from Illinois and his “tortilleros” work around the clock to put together fresh orders every day that then get delivered to 12 restaurants in the area. So if you want your taquitos fresh, you know who to call. And as someone who accidentally bought 49 tortillas too many in Mexico at some point, I can tell you Nixtamal (which by the way means “dough” in Aztec) has some pretty darn good ones.
On that note, the second half started. And a certain Siphiwe Tshabalala scored a gorgeous goal from short range for South Africa. It was the 55th minute, and Nando & co. were pegged to their chairs. From there on, the game was bit of an emotional rollercoaster. 37 year old Cuauhtémoc Blanco came on for the Mexican side, sending me down memory lane to World Cup ‘98. Yet Mexico was limping, playing too slowly to unlock a South African side that seems to know how to defend. Exasperated fans watched as Mexico was playing a two men defense that thinned out with every South African counterattack. But Javier Aguirre finally woke up and threw Manchester United’s new poster child, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez into the game. He energized Mexico’s game, justified the many jerseys around me and put the South African defense to sleep, as Barcelona’s Rafa Marquez scored an equalizer in the 79th minute.
From there on, it was a toss up. 101 exasperated shouts later, the end of the match saw some pretty relieved Mexican fans who can chant “Viva Mexico” and trust the future. With France being held later in the day by Uruguay, this group could very well mess up many brackets.