DOHA, Qatar — The boisterous singing began 45 whole minutes before kickoff, drowning out the stadium emcee. In fact, it began in downtown Doha hours earlier, then continued on the metro’s gold line, into the plaza surrounding Stadium 974, and eventually into the arena. Mexican fans brought it here, to the World Cup, from halfway around the world. To Tuesday’s opener against Poland, they brought pasión y orgullo, and outrageous green outfits, and horns, and noise, and hope.
And their team, outside of one heroic goalkeeper, let them down.
Mexico came to Qatar with energy, and surrounded by expectant roars. Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, at his record-tying fifth World Cup, amplified those roars when he saved a Robert Lewandowski penalty. His name reverberated for a full minute around this temporary stadium built on shipping containers. An ocean and a continent away, a nation of 130 million hailed his legend.
But the players in front of him?
They never quite could break through, and El Tri had to settle for a 0-0 draw.
Ochoa, who transforms into something superhuman when he tugs on a Mexico jersey, and the fans, who always are, lit up an otherwise cagey game.
Ochoa had little to do, until VAR awarded Poland a second-half penalty. When Lewandowski stepped up and targeted the bottom corner, Ochoa sprung to his left and pushed the ball away.
The fans, meanwhile, overpowered the stadium’s loudspeaker system all evening. They drowned out Poland’s lineup. Their noise crescendoed, as one, up through kickoff, and it never really relented. They booed every Lewandowski touch. They oléd every Mexico pass for a while. They either stood or sat on the edges of their seats, waiting to erupt. And they did, by normal soccer fan standards, at even the slightest hint of an opening.
They clenched their fists and prepared to thrust them skyward when Hirving “Chucky” Lozano set up an early chance.
They rose in anticipation when Jesus Gallardo sprinted in behind on an overlap, and nearly latched onto a chipped through-ball.
They chanted “si se puede,” yes you can, and so much more.
Mexico’s play on the field, at times, elicited groans. But the fans shoved aside any looming pessimism. Wholeheartedly, perhaps irrationally, they ignored the fact that their team hadn’t been, and perhaps isn’t, all that good. They chanted for Chucky, and for Memo, and for something
But it never came, and at the final whistle, disappointment replaced the din. This had been an opportunity, a golden one, after Saudi Arabia’s upset of Argentina earlier Tuesday. Mexico failed to take it. And they will head into a Saturday showdown with those Argentines in all-too-desperate need of at least a point.