SAO PAULO (AP) — The number of fans cheering Mexico at the World Cup has taken observers in Brazil by surprise. But talk to those waving the green-white-and-red, and it becomes clear that when the tournament ends, many will return home not to Mexico, but to the United States.
It's unknown how many of the 200,000 World Cup tickets sold to people in the U.S. were bought by fans of Mexico. The number, however, certainly has boosted the 34,000 who purchased tickets from Mexico itself, according to sales figures released by international soccer's governing body.
For Mexico's first match at Dunas stadium in Natal, the Mexican Soccer Federation expected about 15,000 fans would be there to cheer for "el Tri," as Mexico's team is known. But by the time the team claimed its 1-0 victory over Cameroon, surprised local media speculated there were at least twice that number.
On Tuesday, when Mexico tied Brazil 0-0, the number of fans wearing green or red in Castelao Stadium was large and passionately loud against the World Cup host.
"That's the talk here," said Juan Chacon, a Mexico supporter who lives in Texas. "We're asking each other, 'Where did so many come from?'"
The United States has seen steady growth in its Hispanic population, which now makes up 17 percent of the total population, or 53 million people. About two-thirds of those trace their roots to Mexico. At the same time, strong earning power in the United States makes it easier for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living there to afford the trip to Brazil. Per-capital annual income in the U.S. is $47,000, compared to $9,000 in Mexico.
U.S. travel agencies were ready to capitalize on World Cup travelers, regardless of whether they were cheering for Team USA or Mexico. Fans wanting to follow their preferred team to Brazil's various host cities could purchase a luxury travel package for $11,000 including high-end hotels, personal tour guides and local transportation, or economy deals without the frills for between $3,000 and $4,000.