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Cheering for Cruz Azul at the famous Estadio Azteca in Mexico City

After we discovered our arrival date in Mexico City happened to fall on the opening weekend of the 2018-2019 season of Liga MX, the premier professional soccer league in Mexico, we got it into our heads that we’d see a soccer match while we’re there. After reviewing the schedules, we determined the only Mexico City team playing a home game while we’d be in town was Cruz Azul, who’d play its home opener at Estadio Azteca yesterday afternoon, not long after we’d arrived. So we decided we’d be Cruz Azul fans for a week.

I know next to nothing about soccer history, but I came to learn Estadio Azteca has a rich part in it. It apparently hosted two World Cup finals, in 1970 and 1986, and it has hosted the Mexican men’s national team ever since it opened. So even if the game turned out to be not so interesting, we’d be visiting a storied place in any case.

However, more recent stories about Estadio Azteca have not portrayed the venue as particularly welcoming to Americans, which did give me some pause for concern. When the U.S. and Mexican national teams have played each other there, the U.S. fans have been treated with hostility and sometimes even violence. The last time the two teams met there, according to rumors, the 400 or so U.S. fans in attendance had to protected by 4,000 special Mexican police officers. Since last night’s match was not between national teams, and since Kathryn and I had every intention of rooting for the home team, I wasn’t paranoid about being there, but I was certainly at an increased state of vigilance.

Last night’s match started at 5 pm. Even though our flight arrived at the gate in Mexico City at 2:05 pm, about five minutes early, nearly everything after that took longer than I thought it would. We somehow had Mexico’s most thorough immigration officer, and when finally collected our bags and cleared customs, it took another 40 minutes to get our hotel shuttle, and then a half-hour to get to the hotel in insane Mexico City traffic. By the time we checked into our room, dropped our bags, and got an Uber to the stadium, it was after 4 pm.

As we approached the stadium — slowly, because of all the traffic — I couldn’t help but notice the throngs of police with riot gear. My vigilance level shot back up again. However, after we arrived at the stadium, now shortly after 5, everything went relatively smoothly. All those police officers seemed to be making sure nothing bad got started. We had a slight miscommunication with the woman at the ticket office, who sold us cheaper tickets than the ones we thought we were buying, but the seats were not bad for last-minute, and I think the confusion went in our favor.

Police were involved again when entering Estadio Azteca, and Kathryn and I, shifty Americans that we are, were both frisked — Kathryn by a female officer, and I by a male officer. (Apparently there are still only two genders in Mexico.) Once past the gates, we got our first taste of how massive the stadium is, as we began a fifteen-minute walk to our seats.

Our seats we on the end, not surprising for a game that was already underway when we bought the tickets, but they had a great view of the field nonetheless. In fact, we were just behind the end camera. We took our seats with ten minutes remaining in the first half and no score.

Considering how close the seats were to one another, we were quite impressed how the vendors managed to navigate between them. It was like walking tightrope, but with a tray of beer or snacks on their heads. Much like the baseball game we saw in Mexicali last year, we never had to leave our seats for refreshments, if we so chose. I only had a beer, but some of the snacks looked interesting.

Eventually, Cruz Azul was the first to score, with about ten minutes left in the second half, and then everything fell apart for Puebla, the visiting team. Cruz Azul scored several minutes later on a penalty kick, and then almost immediately again thereafter. The final score was 3-0.

As everyone filed out of the stadium, spirits were quite high. Cruz Azul fans were enthusiastically chanting a victory song of some sort. We stopped to take a few photos in better light around 7 pm. Then we had to figure out how to get back to the hotel. But that’s a story for another time.