MEXICO CITY — They rejoiced at Wembley Stadium following the victory over Brazil in the 2012 London Olympic soccer final. They sulked in California when Mexico was humiliated 7-0 by Chile at last year’s Copa America.
Whether it’s the World Cup or Copa America, an exhibition or official match, just look up in the stands during a Mexico game. There’s “La Ola Verde” — The Green Wave.
From New Zealand to Ohio, a group of Mexican fans has been traveling the world for almost a decade following the national team. Its next stop is Russia, where “El Tri” plays in the Confederations Cup, a World Cup warmup tournament that starts Saturday.
“We are one movement, and everywhere we go we try to get together as many Mexicans as possible,” said Gabriel Galvan, one of the group’s founders.
The 38-year-old attorney and about 200 other “Green Wave” members will travel 22 hours and 10,000 miles from Mexico City to Kazan, a city in southwest Russia where Mexico debuts against Cristiano Ronaldo and European champion Portugal on Sunday. Each group member pays its own way, and Galvan estimates the trip will cost about $5,000.
It’s not the first time Galvan and others have traveled to the other side of the world to cheer “El Tri” — the popular nickname for the national team based on the green, red and white colors of the Mexican flag. In 2013, a group of about 10 trekked to Wellington, New Zealand, for a World Cup playoff. Mexico won 4-2 to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“It’s an experience that we will cherish forever,” Galvan said.
Galvan estimates that since 2009, he has spent about $50,000 rooting for the Mexican team around the world. He has seen more than 100 matches, and Russia will be his 36th country.
“People say I’m crazy, especially when the team is playing bad,” Galvan said. “Many friends and relatives ask me, ‘Why do you keep supporting them?’ But I like to see our flag and represent our country, and we are not going to stop doing it.”
Mexico plays its other group matches on June 21 against New Zealand in Sochi, the Black Sea resort and 2014 Olympic host, and on June 24 against Russia back in Kazan. Depending on the results, the team led by Bayer Leverkusen striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez could play the semifinals in either city. The final is July 2 in St. Petersburg.
Mario Nava will also travel to Russia for the Confederations Cup, and hopes to return next year for his third World Cup. Mexico leads the CONCACAF qualifying tournament after six matches.
“I’ve traveled to countries like El Salvador, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, it’s nice to be able to support the team in places where there are not that many Mexicans,” said the 37-year-old attorney, who also works in Mexico City. “My longest trip was to (the World Cup in) South Africa in 2010. It was a great experience to get to know their culture.”
It will be hard to miss the “Green Wave” in the stands, especially if there are half-empty stadiums with ticket sales lagging a few days before the tournament begins. Galvan will be the one wearing the multicolored, winged goalkeeper uniform made famous in the 1990s by former national team star Jorge Campos. Others dress as “El Chavo del 8” (The Kid from the 8), a popular Mexican TV character, or with typical Mexican sombreros and lucha libre wrestling masks.
“We are very easy to spot in each stadium,” Galvan said. “That’s the idea.”
Galvan said the toughest ticket is when Mexico plays the United States in World Cup qualifying in Columbus, Ohio. Most tickets there are available only for official American fan clubs and season-ticket holders of the Columbus Crew, the MLS team.
About 25 “Green Wave” members traveled to Columbus to watch the 2-1 win in November in the first match of the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.
How did they manage to get in?
“We purchased Crew season tickets,” Galvan said. “I paid about $300 for the upper deck, but that was the only way to buy the tickets to the game.”