World Cup: Mexico packs ‘em in -- in Europe too

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According to FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, no team draws bigger crowds at home than Mexico. And El Tri does pretty well in its second homeland, the United States; it averaged more than 60,000 fans on its six-game tour this spring.

But who would have guessed Mexico would draw so well outside it own continent?


Mexico has played before throngs of passionate, flag-waving supporters in the first three matches of its pre-World Cup tour of Europe. Last week in London, enthusiastic fans dressed in Mexican jerseys mixed in with the red- and -white-clad English fans and, two days later, made their presence known in the isolated Black Forest village of Freiburg, Germany. Mexican fans outnumbered -- and out-cheered -- fans of the Dutch national team. And then on Sunday, several thousand more braved sometimes heavy rains to fill the grandstands of tiny Hans-Walter Wild Stadium in Bayreuth, Germany, for Sunday’s friendly with Gambia.

Train cars and highways heading to Bayreuth, a quiet town of about 80,000 in a northern Bavarian valley, were packed with fans wearing the black and green jerseys of Mexico, some in sombreros. One woman from Puebla said she was vacationing in the area with her boyfriend when they heard of the game, which was added to the schedule less than two weeks ago, and decided to come.

More than two hours before kickoff, they joined fans, who ignored the weather to chant ‘Viva Mexico!’ and spin noisemakers while breaking into spontaneous choruses of ‘Cielito Lindo.’

Another fan, Juan Elorza, a Mexican-born U.S. soldier, made the two-hour trip by train from his base outside Schweinfurt with half a dozen friends.

‘Mexicans follow soccer a lot,’ said Elorza, who is assigned to an Army artillery unit that rotated out of Iraq in November. ‘We were born into soccer.’

Nevertheless, Sunday’s game was the first time Elorza had seen the Mexican national team play.

‘I’m following the World Cup,’ he said with a smile.

Turns out the Mexican national team isn’t the only important export that has a following in Germany.

‘Did the Lakers win their series?’ a German-speaking taxi driver asked when he learned his fare was from Los Angeles. ‘I had a passenger the other day who is a Celtics fan.’

-- Kevin Baxter, reporting from Bayreuth, Mexico