by Joe Schwartz
DURHAM — Ismael Ibarra Esparza grabbed a handcarved, handpainted chair and motioned as if he was going to hurl it out of the window Thursday afternoon as Mexico netted what would be the game winner against France.
Up to then, he was sitting just about as peacefully as one can sit while his country plays in the World Cup, enjoying the match with a half dozen of his painting colleagues who got the afternoon off to come to Torero’s on West Main Street in Durham.
“We just told [our boss] it was like a Duke-Carolina game, and he understood,” said the Durango, Guanajuato, Mexico native.
A 2-0 victory and a $2 cerveza special brought a feeling of euphoria for the dozen fans in attendance there.
“I think it’s the best thing to happen to us,” says Yadany Ruiz Arroyo, one of the waitresses who slipped on green and red jerseys five minutes before the game began.
“Today we are so happy.”
She plans to enjoy carne asada and beer with her family tonight to celebrate.
The crowd at Torero’s, though smaller than Ruiz expected, was raucous throughout. A third-minute Giovani dos Santos strike hit the post, eliciting an “ole, ole, ole, ooooooooo!!!” from the group.
Fans popped up and down as Mexicans neared the goalmouth, shaking their heads as shots were blasted high and wide.
Ibarra, channeling his inner Dave Grohl, beat rapidly on the table during tense moments, rattling hot sauce bottles against their metal basket.
Mexico now only needs a draw against Uruguay to reach to the knockout round of 16, and Ibarra is already hoping he can take a few more afternoons off work.
His passion for his country is perhaps even more important now, as he lives in North Carolina, he says.
“We came here, but we’re still Mexicans,” he says. “No matter where we stay, we still feel proud of Mexico.”