AS THE middle of June approaches, cities all over the world prepare for the displays of color and joyful sounds that fill the streets with the upcoming FIFA World Cup. This year’s competition will take place in Russia from June 14 to July 15 with 32 national football teams from across the globe. The title will be disputed in a total of 64 matches in 12 different venues located in 11 cities. The impact of the tournament, however, goes beyond the host nation. Alongside each of these squads are innumerable followers waiting to support them from the benches or miles away. Such is the case for Korean and Mexican supporters who will closely follow the games of Group F, in which both national teams are set to play. As the date nears, both countries get ready to back their teams, and although they will be rivals in the field, at home their fans’ celebrations are not that different from each other.
Every four years the world is able to witness how football fans in the host country cheer for their team. In 1986, international audiences watched as fans in Mexico sequentially stood and rose their hands while chanting, turning entire stadiums into a human travelling wave. This phenomenon is now performed in many tournaments and is commonly known as la ola (Spanish for “the wave”) or “Mexican wave.” Similarly, sixteen years later, when South Korea hosted the World Cup with Japan, spectators saw the massive cheerings that took place in Korean streets, as well.
Although in those occasions both nations demonstrated their unique celebrations, there are similarities when they watch from overseas. When describing how Koreans enjoy the matches, Na Hye-hong (Fr., Dept. of English Language and Lit.) said, “Some people [...]watch the World Cup at locations such as the Seoul Station Square.” These public screenings are really popular in Korea, and in 2012, there were 25 main spots for them where tens of thousands of fans supported their team and enjoyed music performances.
This is a shared feature since in Mexico numerous aficionadosgather around screens in major cities across most of the 32 states to watch the tournament. Likewise, attendants can sometimes find music festivals, food and free merchandise at these sites. These events are particularly significant because in Mexico the passion for football is almost considered a religion, and loyalty to football clubs can cause animosity between families—and even entire cities. However, once the national team (nicknamed “El tricolor” for the team’s tri-color uniform that symbolizes the Mexican flag) sets foot into the field, the rivalry between fans ceases to exist.
Another common trait between these countries is the fan commitment towards their national team. Undisturbed by having to watch the games as early as 4:00 a.m. in the last World Cup, Korean fans held to each other’s arms as they moved to the sound of their chants. The enthusiasm never stops as, according to Na, “people chant ‘Daehanminguk’* and clap while watching the game.”
Correspondingly, to say Mexican football fans are enthused about watching their team play is an understatement. After all, Mexico has the fourth highest amount of requested tickets for this year’s FIFA World Cup. Moreover, in spite of temperatures of over 40°C in some Mexican cities in 2012, fans eagerly sung along to the nationally popular song “Cielito Lindo”**(can be translated as “Lovely One” or “Dear One”) and did la ola while cheering for their team. Regardless of the circumstances, the passion of both nation’s fans is always palpable.
Looking the part
While streets are crowded with multiple fans in South Korea and in Mexico, there are particular features for each. The most noticeable one is the attendee’s attire. Mexico paints itself red, white and green in the shape of jerseys, whistles, body paint and banners. One distinguishable characteristic is that El tricolor fans also use the colors as part of replicas of traditional Mexican garments like penachos (feathered headdresses) and mariaci hats.
However, in Korea there is a singular color that reigns: red, the color of the national football team, also known as Taegeuk Jeonsa or the “Red Devils.” Perhaps the most striking difference is that many of the Korean fans embrace their team’s nickname by wearing red devil horns while they cheer. Nonetheless, these getups reflect the spirit of both teams in their own way.
Cheering from home
Although public screenings, restaurants and sports bars are available, staying at home during the World Cup is pretty common. On this topic, Na said, “We usually watch the World Cup at home with family and friends with delivery food, mainly [fried] chicken.” For home viewing parties, fried chicken is a popular part of the experience. A common flavor is Yangnyeom chicken, which is usually paired with beer.
In Mexico, the World Cup can be celebrated at home, too. Families and friends gather around the television with homemade dishes or fire up the grill to savor some carne asada (grilled meat). Other staples include guacamole, totopos (tortilla chips), refreshing beverages and beer. While each nation has its own culinary tradition when it comes to the World Cup, maintaining an intimate setting seems to be important for both.
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While the chants, attire and food may vary, at the end of the day, fans from both countries are unified by passion not only for their national team but for the sport itself, which makes watching the World Cup a thrilling experience, regardless of the location. Although the result is uncertain, during the June 24th match between South Korea and Mexico, excitement and dedication will run high inside and outside of the Rostov Arena. There might be 11,388 km between the nations, but for 90 minutes the focus will be on their united love for football and their hope to see their team succeed.
*Daehanminguk: The official name of the Republic of Korea.
**”Cielito Lindo”: A traditional song that is usually used by Mexicans as an unofficial anthem, especially when they are overseas.