Mexico fans celebrate World Cup opener in midtown Sacramento

Buzzing his vuvuzela horn, Gerardo Flores began energizing the masses as the Himno Nacional, the Mexican national anthem, came to an abrupt end.

Chants of “Mexico!” and the sound of a beating drum brought the throngs of fans – El Tri aficionados – wrapped in green and white to their feet, clapping, whistling and raising their fists in the air as the referee signaled the start of the match.

Thus began a boisterous World Cup viewing party at Zocalo, an upscale Mexican restaurant in midtown Sacramento where more than 200 people flocked Friday morning to see Mexico take on Cameroon.

“It was a great showing by the Latino community,” Zocalo manager Josh Sullivan said. “They really came out today to really support their team.”

A soccer wave has spread across the region this year, sparked by the recent arrival of professional squad Sacramento Republic FC, which has drawn sellout crowds of more than 20,000 fans. That momentum continued Friday morning as soccer fans packed downtown hot spots, a scene expected to repeat over the next month as the World Cup unfolds.

Midtown restaurants expect World Cup viewing parties to double sales. Hot Italian co-founder Andrea Lepore thinks the event will be a boon to eateries such as hers that cater to soccer fans. Hot Italian will show all the games, but she expects particularly large crowds for the Italy matches.

Sitting inside a packed banquet hall, Belen and Andres Gutierrez, along with their 12-year-old daughter Alexis drove nearly four hours from Visalia. Alexis had a soccer game in Folsom later Friday.

“I think Sacramento paused this morning because so many people are out here,” said Gutierrez, looking at the hundreds of spectators surrounding them.

Alexis said she preferred the livelier setting of a restaurant viewing party over sitting on the couch.

“You get to watch alongside more people that are Mexico fans,” she said.

Julio Cardenas left Lathrop as early as 6:30 in the morning to get a good view of the action with family living in Sacramento.

“I’ve attended games here before; this place gets packed,” said Cardenas, a native of Guanajuato, Mexico, proudly sporting his jersey.

A handful of fans wore U.S. soccer attire, but Friday was considered a day to celebrate Mexican ties at Zocalo.

“It’s a great place to watch soccer. I get to celebrate with my people and get hyped,” said Rebecca Torres of Sacramento.

The longer Mexico went scoreless, the kickoff euphoria turned into disbelief, with many fans clutching their fists and covering their faces with the palms of their hands.

Mexico had multiple chances to score first and seemed to break through several times in the first half, but the officials negated those opportunities by calling offsides on three occasions. The teams remained scoreless at the half.

“We almost got robbed by the referees. It should’ve been 3-0,” said Hector Martinez, 25, of Sacramento. “But it is going to happen in a World Cup.”

At the Streets of London Pub on J Street in midtown, only a handful of people watched the Mexico-Cameroon match. General manager Thaddeus Johnson said he was hoping more fans would show for the Spain-Netherlands game, a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final.

“I was expecting a little more (fans) from Mexico,” Johnson said. He anticipates large crowds for the England games.

Jose Lopez and his friends, sporting green, red and white, joined a similarly sparse crowd at de Vere’s Irish Pub on L Street to watch Mexico square off against Cameroon.

The 27-year-old Sacramento man prefers the “divey, more down-to-earth” ambiance of de Vere’s to catch the game. It beats the living room, too, he said.

“It’s quieter when you’re watching at home,” he said. “It’s kind of depressing, and it’s hard to try and get a bunch of friends to come over at 9 a.m.”

In the 61st minute, Mexico finally got on the board on a shot by Oribe Peralta to the bottom left corner of the net.

Bedlam ensued at Zocalo.

High-fives and shouts of victory were delivered. Mexico had pulled through. The lone goal proved good enough for the 1-0 win.

“Cameroon is a good defending team. Mexico is going to have to be at their ‘A’ game against Brazil,” said a relieved Raul Munoz, referring to Mexico’s opponent Tuesday.

“We’ll surprise them,” he added. “Watch.”