Mexico takes World Cup fans from raucous highs to wrenching lows (video)

The Fresno BeeJune 29, 2014 

For the better part of the second half of the World Cup match between Mexico and the Netherlands, it was a fiesta inside Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant.

But two late goals -- the go-ahead on a penalty kick in stoppage time -- gave the Dutch a 2-1 victory and quickly put a pall over the throng at Los Amigos and other spots where Mexican soccer fans gathered Sunday morning.

They were out in force at Los Amigos, a northwest Fresno restaurant where nearly 100 supporters of "El Tri" (for the red, white and green Mexican flag) were packed standing-room only. Some wore sombreros, others draped themselves in the flag; all were eager to see Mexico win a World Cup knockout game for the first time in six tries.

The restaurant whipped into a frenzy in the 48th minute when Giovani Dos Santos scored a golazo to put Mexico up 1-0. Fans jumped up and down, some stood on chairs and let out gritos, others high-fived.

Armando Gonzalez, 50 of Fresno, pumped his fist repeatedly above his head, which was covered in a red, white and green striped wig.

Angel Valencia, a bartender's assistant and one of many workers decked out in an El Tri jersey, shouted and joined in the high-fiving.

"Everybody in here goes crazy when Mexico scores," Valencia, 21, of Fresno, said. "You don't know each other but all of a sudden you do when Mexico scores. It's like we're one huge family."

Chants of "Si se puede!" and "Viva Mexico! Viva!" echoed off the restaurant walls.

When Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made a stellar stop of Arjen Robben's shot in the 75th minute, jaws dropped -- fans couldn't believe El Tri was still in front. They quickly collected themselves and took up a chant, "Ochoa! Ochoa!"

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez was subbed onto the field, and the cheers in Los Amigos changed to "Chicharo! Chicharo!"

Victory seemed near.

With Mexico still ahead in the 87th minute, fans started singing "Ay, ay, ay ay! Canta y no llores!" Soon the entire restaurant was belting the famous mariachi classic "Cielito Lindo."

The singing stopped. Maybe the crowd should've kept going, because less than 30 seconds later,, the Dutch tied on a strike from Wesley Sneijder. The restaurant fell dead silent.

With the score 1-1 and only a few minutes left to play, fans gripped their seats, some holding their hands on their heads hoping Mexico would hold even until extra time or pull ahead.

In the second minute of stoppage time, the referee awarded Netherlands a penalty after a foul by Mexican captain Rafa Marquez on Robben. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored the penalty to put the Dutch ahead 2-1 as the hopes and dreams of Mexican fans at Los Amigos and around the world came to a screeching halt.

At the final whistle, fans in Los Amigos sunk their faces into their hands, tasting the bitterness of a final-minute defeat.

"Just too much stress and heartbreak," said Gonzalez's wife, Tommie. "This hurts. I enjoyed the match but I don't like the way we lost."

"What a horrible way to end the game," said 61-year-old Charlie Smith of Selma. He made the 25-mile drive to catch the game in an "authentic atmosphere."

For other fans, like 33-year-old Luis Sanchez, the call for the late penalty stung the worst.

"At 1-1, I was completely fine," he said, wearing a Mexico polo shirt to match the small flag painted on his left cheek. "That penalty was unfair and Mexico had the potential to win the game. The referee's decision was unfair."

For Luis Ireta, a youth soccer coach in Fresno, the loss was just another aspect of "the beautiful game."

"That's how soccer is," Ireta said. "One moment it can be very beautiful and the next it can be very treacherous.

"I thought Mexico gave it 100% from start to finish," he said. "It was one of the best matches of this World Cup and for Mexico."

The reporter can be reached at amoreno@fresnobee.com, (559) 441-6401 or @anhelllll on Twitter.

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