A World Cup Final, A Perfect Script
Richard Sanchez, Chicago Fire goalkeeper
July tenth two-thousand eleven, 10pm, the night where I went to bed knowing that I was going to be part of something potentially historic. It was the night where I went to bed feeling every nerve shaking and every blood cell flowing through my veins. It was the night prior the start of the Final of the Under-17 Youth World Cup.
The possibility of representing Mexico at an international level is that one that an uncountable number of Mexican teenagers, both across Mexico and the United States, in my generation merely dreamt about. I remember watching Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez represent Mexico in the 2002 World Cup and being fascinated by his high-diving-upper-ninety saves, thinking, “Wow, I want to be like him.” But it became a reality and I went on to start for the U-17 Mexican National Team.
As a seventeen year old kid, it felt pretty awesome getting interviewed and seeing flashing lights. By the start of the World Cup, we had received a lot of media attention, especially because the tournament was being played in Mexico and we were the hosts.
I am actually pretty proud of my then teammates because of how we handled the pressure. The attention as the hosts.. being “obligated” to win.. being nominated as favorites.. or perhaps failing and let a whole country down. We didn’t let the hype get to us.
We endured some ups and downs throughout the tournament, eventually making it to the Final. Uruguay, the Charruas, was our rival for the final. Prior to the start of the World Cup, we had a couple of friendly games against them. Those match-ups didn’t go too well for us as we lost every game against them; our final friendly ending in a 6-0 loss. Many would be afraid to face a team that had beaten them so many times, but we were feeling very confident in ourselves. I mean, what better scenario than a World Cup Final at home to redeem ourselves from the embarrassment? My teammates and I thought that it was a perfect time to get revenge.
The final was to be played in a sold out one-hundred thousand person Azteca stadium. You could not write a better script.
I remember arriving to the stadium, walking up a ramp, looking down at the pavement, lifting my head up as I reach the end of it, and before my eyes was a colossal arrangement of seats. I felt an immense amount of intimidation. At my height of six-three, I felt like an ant walking onto the field. It was so loud, already full 60 minutes before the game, it sounded like a bunch of bees buzzing around me. Red, white, and green filled the stands.
Playing with the Mexican national team in a World Cup Final at the Azteca Stadium. To many of my family members, including myself, thought that this was an impossible fantasy. Now, it was becoming a reality.
I walk back to the dressing room to change into my uniform. The locker room was as loud as can be with music playing to get us pumped up for the game. Everybody was encouraging one another to give it their all. I make my way off to the pitch to start my warm up and as I walk through the tunnel I can hear the fans chanting and can feel the stadium vibrate all around me. As I make my way up the ramp and step onto the field, all one-hundred thousand plus fans roar and clap. I take a step back to admire the support of my people. My eyes were wide open at the massive wall of people that were sitting right before my eyes. My goalkeeper coach comes up to me and puts his arm around me and tells me “What a crowd, huh?” Right he was.
I felt very nervous and intimidated to play in front of all these people. How could you not be? Then, just as I was jogging over to start my warm up, I look over to my right and there I see my family. The sight of their presence quieted everything around me and brought an immense amount of motivation to me. I was ready to play this final.
After my warm up, we go back to the dressing room to get ready for the match. You can feel the excitement and positive energy that fills up the atmosphere of the locker room. Everyone is encouraging one another as we head out to the tunnel to walk out onto the field. At this point, I’m feeling the adrenaline rushing through my veins. We line up along one side of the pitch for the playing of the national anthems. Uruguay’s national anthem plays first; I stand there, anxiously, waiting to get this game started. They finish singing their anthem and now it was our turn to sing. We turn to salute our flag and the violin starts playing to cue us in. Before I know it one-hundred thousand voices were in sync as we all start singing the national anthem. I could feel every single hair on my body rise from the vibration of the voices that resonated throughout me. It was so loud, I couldn’t even hear myself singing. This is what, as a child, I had envisioned.
I do my normal ritual of stepping into the box and pray that nobody gets injured and to thank God for the opportunity to play the final that I had only dreamt of. The referee blows the whistle and the stadium roars.
Possession of the ball was pretty even early on, equally shaky for both teams, as each of us tried waiting for a counter attack. Throughout the first twenty minutes I’m feeling nervous. It wasn’t until the twentieth minute where I’m called upon and had a real scare. A long ball was played behind my defense and into space for the forward. I anticipate the play and come out of my box to try and cut it off. I succeeded but managed to collide head on with the Uruguayan forward. Fortunately enough, nothing happened to me though the other player had to be subbed out due to showing signs of unconsciousness. I felt bad for the guy and hoped that he’d be ok as he was escorted out of the stadium.
Then, about ten minutes later, we score. I’m running, screaming and throwing my hands in the air. I run up to one of the field cameras and yell “GOAL!” There was a sense of security and we started to control the first half.
When the second half rolls around, we almost let the game slip out of our hands. Uruguay started to create dangerous opportunities. I was able to keep my team in the game with a couple of saves. I started feeling more and more confident in myself but was afraid that they’d score on us.The Charruas were able to get through our defense twice and had two good chances to win the game. But the post saved us from disaster. My heart was pounding. The next twenty minutes were a blur. The ninetieth minute rolls around and I look over to the fourth official to see how many minutes would be added. The electronic board indicates an additional five minutes to the match.
I kept looking up at the clock every second to see when those five minutes would be up. Every minute felt like an eternity and I started feeling anxious to the point where my legs felt like they had ants crawling up them.
With seconds remaining, we score a second, final, clinching goal. I jump up in Mario fashion like when he celebrates after saving Peach from Donkey Kong. The stadium started chanting, “CAMPEONES, CAMPEONES, CAMPEONES!” and sang “El Cielito Lindo.” I started singing along with them and encouraged the people to keep singing. I look over to the bench and see my teammates wearing a shirt that reads “CHAMPIONS.”
Suddenly, the referee blows the whistle to end the match and a rush of euphoria came pouring down on me. Coaching staff, bench players, and the starters throw up their hands and dart around the field. Cups filled with beer were thrown by the fans and were flying throughout the stadium. The lights from the people’s cameras were flashing to get a video or picture of this moment. I didn’t know anything else to do but to throw myself on the floor, roll around, and cry like a baby. My childhood dream came true and all the hard work and dedication paid its price.
I walked up that podium in disbelief of what had happened, but I soaked every moment of it in. I jump, dance, and act a fool. Teammates and coaching staff gathered around our captain as he received the trophy. One… Two… Three and up he lifts the trophy. We make our way off the podium and I see my family. My mom reaches out and grabs me and I can see the tears of joy from her eyes. I hug her and give her a kiss on the cheek. My dad and brother are next to her and I pull them in to hug them because without them this accomplishment wouldn’t have been made possible. I continue my path down to the field and jog around in Olympic fashion with my teammates to show off the trophy to all the people that had came out to watch us play. In the midst of our jog, rain starts pouring down as if the heavens were expressing their joy for our triumph. As a souvenir, I went over to one of the goals and cut out the net just like Pique had done it when Barcelona won a Champions League.
The following day we were scheduled to meet up with Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s president at the time, in Los Pinos- the White House of Mexico. On our way to Los Pinos, we took a bus that had its rooftop open. We were to tour around Mexico City to show off the trophy. The trajectory of the bus took us to important parts of the city until we come to a stop at El Angel de la Independencia. Thousands of people were gathered there to see what 21 17-year-old kids had accomplished. To the country of Mexico, presently ridden with corruption and overrun with cartels, this was hope that things could get better.
On our way back from Los Pinos, I was sitting on the bus by myself. I was grateful to God for an opportunity to be a part of a team that was crowned champion, but I was ready to get back home to my family. We arrive at the hotel and I gather my things and make my way to the airport, filled with the satisfaction of being a World Cup CHAMPION.