Soccer exhibition stirs fans' loyalties
By MELODY GUTIERREZ
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
The scoreless soccer game was a disappointment, and the slow-paced first half left much to be desired.
But the enthusiasm of the fans attending Tuesday night's match between America of Mexico and Boca Juniors of Argentina never let up. The pace of the match picked up in the second half as some of the 13,411 fans found their way out of their seats and into mobs of people who shared the same flag and chanted for the same team.
At halftime, Boca Juniors fans went from one side of the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium to the other in an almost ceremonial march with drums and chanting. They wanted a better place from which to see their team score, said Boca Juniors fan Daniel Nacinovich.
"We are really crazy. We are real fans," Nacinovich said. "It's just very rare to see them (Boca Juniors) in person, and they are here in Houston."
The Boca Juniors fans started to gather 40 minutes before either team hit the field. At a half hour before the game began, they waved flags over their heads, some removed their shirts, and they all began jumping while chanting in Spanish "Come on, Boca. We came here to see you win."
"I can't express all of my feelings," said Areal Ribea of Houston. "I want Boca to win."
Boca is still in preseason play, but for America, the game comes right before the semifinals of Copa Libertadores against Sao Caetano of Brazil.
Ricky Camardo, 22, of Houston was in awe of the celebratory mood of the Boca Juniors fans.
"I like how the Argentinians are. I wish we were like that," Camardo said. "Soccer is a lot more passionate for them than in Mexico. They take it to heart."
World Cup fever might have attracted a few fans, but most of those in attendance were adorned in their team's jerseys and hats before they showed up. But that didn't keep the merchandise inside the stadium from flying off the shelves.
"I just finished watching the World Cup, and I came here because I thought it would be fun," said C.J. Smith of Houston. "It's pretty colorful in the bleachers. I like how the Argentines are making a lot of noise in the small group.
"I'm not really rooting for either team. I'm Scottish. I watch Scotland mainly, but they didn't make it to the World Cup. It's not very often that you get several thousands of Mexicans hanging out and having a good laugh. I will probably never see that again."
But Camardo isn't sure the World Cup had much effect on the attendance.
"Most people here are not American. They are Mexican and Argentinian," he said. "We Americans haven't caught on yet. But as our team gets better, it will. These teams are both very good. Anybody could win this game; that adds to the excitement. And Argentina hates to lose to anyone."
The prideful Boca Juniors fans only sparked the America fans to get rowdy. With sombreros and an imitation trophy cup, America's fans ran with a flag and filled the bleachers next to their opposing fans. But there was no trouble on this night. Fans cheered, and even up to an hour after the game they could be heard chanting for their team.
"This is what we live for," Camardo said.