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Soccer fans gather across Los Angeles to watch Mexico vs. South Korea match

Soccer fans gather across Los Angeles to watch Mexico vs. South Korea match
Fans celebrate Mexico's first goal while watching the World Cup match between Mexico and South Korea at Plaza Mexico in Lynwood. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

The game played out more than 6,000 miles away in a Russian port city. But the event was as Los Angeles as they come.

Soccer fans gathered all around the city Saturday morning to watch Mexico face off against South Korea in the World Cup.

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They watched on a giant screen outside La Placita Catholic Church in downtown, after baptizing their children. They gathered by the hundreds in a Koreatown park that was about evenly split between those wearing green Mexico team jerseys and red South Korea ones.

Mexico had upset reigning champion Germany in its June 17 opening match and was the favorite to win Saturday, though it was fighting against history, since it had not won back-to-back matches at a World Cup since 2002.

Outside the landmark Koreatown Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, Carlos Duran sold Mexico team shirts and flags on a clothesline strung between a tree and a light pole.

Duran, a native of El Salvador, has lived in the area for 20 years. He works as a security guard and has built a side business from World Cup memorabilia.

A longtime soccer fan, Duran said he was promoting Mexico because he knows his audience, but also because he likes the way the team plays.

Business was good, he said. He had invested $1,500 and made more than double, so far.

“If Mexico loses, we all lose,” Duran said moments before the game. “If, God willing, they win, then the sale continues.”

Inside the restaurant, Veronica Vega, 30, of Long Beach rooted for Mexico with friends. She said she grew up watching soccer, and though her family is Bolivian, they’re proud Mexico fans.

Vega said the World Cup holds a special place in her heart. She and her boyfriend started dating two tournaments ago. In 2014, they flew to Brazil together to watch it in person.

She has been waking up at 5:30 a.m. to watch early games before heading to work at a YMCA summer camp. She also sneaks in time to watch during her lunch break.

Hailey Yoo, 30, of Beverly Hills was one of a small number of people at Guelaguetza rooting for South Korea. She works at a plastic surgery clinic, where many of the staff are Latino. They had invited her and two other Korean employees to watch the game.

They arrived at the restaurant at 7:30 a.m., wearing red South Korea jerseys, and they were quickly surrounded by a sea of green.

“We didn’t know there would be no Korean people, so it was a little bit of a surprise,” Yoo said. “But it was a lot of fun.”

At the Koreatown viewing party at Wilshire Park Place, the crowd was about evenly split between Mexico and South Korea fans. Both countries’ flags waved above the crowd.

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There were even a handful of South Koreans who wore Mexico jerseys and a few Mexicans in South Korea ones. Four-year-old Ayden Martinez-Shin wore a Mexico shirt decorated with a South Korean flag to show support for both teams.

"This feels like home," said Rodolfo Cervantes, 35, who lives in Koreatown, as he stood with two friends.

College friends Samuel Choi, 30, and Arian Khodakarami, 29, watched the match together. Choi was in a red sweater with “Korea” on the back, Khodakarami in a Mexico national team shirt.

"This event to me captures what L.A. is," Khodakarami said. "There are pockets of communities celebrating and exchanging cultures."

Choi said he had come to a previous World Cup viewing party for South Korea, but Saturday’s event was the most diverse crowd he has seen.

"I think it was beautiful," he said.

At LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown, at another viewing party sponsored by McDonald’s, hundreds watched the match on a big screen while small children kicked around a soccer ball and played foosball.

Jesus Cruz, 28, and Bere Quezada, 23, of La Puente, had baptized their year-old daughter Lissandra in the morning at La Placita church next door.

After Mass, they walked over to the viewing party with the girl’s godparents. Cruz carried his daughter as he watched the game, her lace white dress and bonnet contrasting with the sports jerseys everyone else seemed to be wearing.

The family would be hosting a baptism party in the afternoon and if Mexico won, the celebration would be double, Cruz said.

About 25 minutes into Saturday’s game, Mexico scored its first goal, taking a 1-0 lead. Forty minutes later, Mexico scored again to take what proved to be an insurmountable lead. South Korea’s lone goal, in extra time, came too late and Mexico won, 2-1.

Mexico is now almost assured of advancing to the elimination round, while South Korea, which lost to Sweden in its opening match, has almost no chance of advancing.

With the game over, Mexico fans jumped, danced and waved their flags a little higher. And Justin Park, 43, who was in Koreatown to root for South Korea, found himself compelled to join in the celebration.

He raised his arms and shouted, “Viva Mexico!”

12 p.m.: This article was updated with more comments from soccer fans after Mexico’s victory.

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with more comments from fans and the final score.

9:25 a.m.: This article was updated with more comments from fans.

8:50 a.m.: This article was updated with more comments from fans.

8:40 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from fans and vendors.

This article was originally posted at 7:45 a.m.

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