JEONJU, South Korea – President Bush didn't quite predict the United States' historic 2-0 win in the World Cup on Monday, but he told the team before the game he was confident of victory.
Bush, the former owner of baseball's Texas Rangers but a soccer novice, telephoned coach Bruce Arena at about 11 a.m. (10 p.m. EDT Sunday), 4 hours before the kickoff against Mexico. Players listened on a speaker phone.
"The country is really proud of the team," Bush said. "A lot of people that don't know anything about soccer, like me, are all excited and pulling for you."
The United States advanced past the first round of the world's most-watched sporting event for just the third time, following losses to Argentina in the 1930 semifinals and to Brazil in the second round in 1994, when the tournament was held in the United States.
The Americans meet Germany in the quarterfinals on Friday at Ulsan.
Earlier, Bush and Mexico President Vicente Fox wished each other luck.
"I just hung up the phone a little earlier with the president of Mexico," Bush told Arena. "He was very gracious. I didn't declare victory yet, but I feel pretty confident."
It was the first World Cup meeting between the neighboring nations.
"We know we represent the greatest country in the world," Arena told Bush. "We are going to give the kind of effort you and all America will be proud of."
Players, unaccustomed to attention in their own country, where soccer is overshadowed by the NFL, baseball and the NBA, were surprised when they found out the president was on the speaker phone.
"We were thinking — 'Which president?'" Landon Donovan said. "That was awesome. You could tell he genuinely cared."
Bush's call seemed to affect the team.
"I guess that means we're bringing attention to the sport in the United States," Arena said.
A wave of nationalist fervor and dreams of soccer greatness swept Mexico before the game.
Mexico has been through three U.S. invasions and lost half its territory to its northern neighbor. Monday's match represented a chance for some psychological payback.
"This is war!" announced a headline in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma, describing a match between countries "who are neighbors, and bitter rivals."
Few Mexicans even contemplated the possibility of defeat, despite the improvement of U.S. teams in recent years. Winning has become a near national obsession.
"We have to beat the United States," Fox said during his weekly Saturday radio program.
Expecting a victory and an outpouring of pent-up nationalism, some Mexico City residents jokingly warned their American friends not to wander too close the city's Independence Monument, where crowds traditionally celebrate the national team's victories.
Indeed, police announced an increase in security around the U.S. Embassy, almost directly in front of the Independence Monument. The embassy announced it would be closed Monday, to avoid adding to the crowding and traffic jams expected around the monument.