BEIT MILLEIT, Lebanon: Mexico’s elimination from the World Cup Sunday night dealt a blow to a small Christian hamlet in Akkar, where the distant relatives of leftback Miguel Layun still reside.
In Beit Milleit, Layun’s northern Lebanese ancestral village, dozens of people gathered in front of a giant TV screen to cheer him on in Mexico’s match against the Netherlands, the 26-year-old player’s posters hung everywhere.
“Nearly 90 percent of the people here support Mexico because of Miguel,” said banker Simon Layun, a second cousin of the player.
Some munching on snacks and soft drinks, others smoking nargileh, the crowd jumped up and down, danced and cheered every time Mexican players were near the Netherlands goal.
Whenever Layun had the ball the crowd screamed and clapped, breaking into shouts of “Miguel, Miguel!”
Their support was not enough, however. Mexico led until the last few minutes, when the Netherlands scored two quick goals to win.
“I had read about it, and I really appreciate it [the support],” the Mexico defender said after the game. “It’s people that I always have in my heart, and they deserve it. I’m very happy to know about this [their support], and it’s a shame that today I couldn’t bring them more happiness.”
Brazil has the largest number of Lebanese descendants in the world while in Mexico there is a large community of people of Lebanese origin including billionaire Carlos Slim, one of the richest people in the world, and Mexican actor Salma Hayek.
Although most Lebanese are supporters of either Brazil or Germany in the World Cup, many hoped Mexico would win Sunday’s match.
The World Cup commentator on state-run Tele Liban said having someone of Lebanese origin playing in the World Cup is a “dream” that makes every Lebanese proud, calling on Layun to return to his roots and visit the “Land of the Cedars.”
Jerjes al-Saifi, the mayor of Beit Milleit, which has a population of 2,000 people, said thousands of people from the village emigrated mostly to Mexico and Brazil over the past century.
Speaking in a courtyard decorated with Lebanese and Mexican flags as well as posters of Layun, the grey-haired man said that after Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War began in 1975, emigration from the village shifted to countries like Canada and Australia.
The house of Layun’s grandfather, Youssef, who emigrated to Mexico looking for opportunities abroad, is still there, deserted. A second cousin, Elie Layun, said he lived in it for some years until he built his own house.
Elie said Miguel had never visited the village although his parents did years ago.
Among those watching the match Sunday was Antoinette Abdul-Maseeh Jeitani, a Mexican-Lebanese who is currently visiting her home country.
“I always supported Mexico but because of Miguel I support it more,” said Jeitani, who lives in Mexico City’s Colonia del Valle.
Another Mexican Lebanese, Sarkis Nehme, 10, said in broken Arabic: “Mexico played very well and they deserve to win.”
The late penalty that sealed the Netherlands victory left the crowd heartbroken. “It’s too bad, Mexico played very, very well. The penalty was not fair.”