The 2010 FIFA World Cup competition got underway in South Africa Friday, as the host team's national soccer team faced off against Mexico. Over two billion viewers are expected to watch some part of the month-long competition, which involves 32 teams.
A pier on the Hudson River was festooned with Mexican flags, McDonald's paraphernalia and giant television screens, as the first of many public viewing events sponsored by the restaurant chain began to wind down. One couple traveled to New York from Long Island to be with other Mexican Americans for the first game.
"We saw the commercial and we said, 'Hey! Let's go have fun. We had the day off. We can go over there. Enjoy, and everybody is here.' And also McDonald's. So it's good. It's fun. Everything comes together," said the man.
Technically speaking, McDonald's spokesman Marcelo Fajnerman, a Uruguayan American, was on hand to make sure the food was plentiful and the sodas flowed. But it was clear that, for him, today was about far more than work. He says people the world over love World Cup soccer, but that Latinos feel a special passion.
"We are born and raised and bred with soccer. Soccer is what everyone plays [and] what everyone watches. The countries in Latin America, when their national teams play, they stop. School stops. They take all the kids out of the class and they watch the game all together. The country stops. So that's how it is… with your national team, with your national pride," he said.
For Jaime Camil, the famous Mexican soap opera star and international heartthrob whom McDonald's invited to host today's party, Mexico's national pride was neither hurt nor helped by the game's final score, which ended with a one to one tie. "As you know, Mexico played against the home team, South Africa. It was a very good game, actually. They stole a goal from us. That's not nice, of course. But we dominated the first half of the game," he said.
Like Camil, a 20-something Mexican woman came here to see the game, but the star became a compelling distraction. "He's very handsome. You can't deny that," she said.
The fun is just beginning. The FIFA World Cup is scheduled to conclude on July 11, 2010. The final game of the quadrennial tournament is expected to draw over two billion viewers worldwide.