This soccer-mad L.A. Latina has attended seven World Cups. Qatar will make it eight

There are World Cup football fanatics. And then there’s Bertha Alicia Guzmán.

Seven times, this Latina transplant from Guadalajara has spent a small fortune to see her beloved, eternally heartbreaking Mexico national team take part in football’s quadrennial showcase. Along the way she has made friends and made memories, from Brazil to Russia, from South Africa to South Korea.

Now she travels to Qatar, the tiny island nation in the Middle East that will host the Copa Mundial from November 20th to December 18th. Guzmán said that this World Cup, her eighth, will be her most expensive. So far, she’s spent about $8,000 on tickets, airfare, and lodging.

No meaning. She’s thrilled because she got VIP tickets to Mexico’s three opening round matches. During her two-week stay in the capital, Doha, she will take part in several other matches including Portugal vs. Uruguay, USA vs. Iran, Spain vs. Costa Rica and the Brazil-Cameroon encounter before returning to California in early December.

How does she prepare for such a football binge marathon?

“I’m pretty disciplined,” replies the frequent flyer, who rarely misses out on a top-flight football match or a long-haul trip. She recently returned from Morocco, the 90th country she has visited.

The seven world wonders? She was there, did that too.

“I love to travel. I work to travel,” said the Torrance resident.

Bertha Alicia Guzman scores 94 on World Cup USA ticket

Among Guzmán’s souvenirs is a ticket to the 1994 World Cup, which was held in the United States.

(James Carbone/Los Angeles Times)

Most of this work has been in sales and marketing within the supermarket industry. If you stop by their office, you can’t miss their World Cup memorabilia: not overpriced mass-market tourist souvenirs, but cherished photos, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs.

“I’m not someone who buys a lot,” she said. “The things I have are small.”

For a time, Guzmán also collected Panini stickers from World Cup players and pasted them into books – a popular pastime of football fans around the world. But she realized that if she continued to hoard like this, she would have to live on her patio and leave the rest of the house to her football memorabilia. However, her most prized possessions include a vuvuzela from South Africa in 2010, small towels from Japan in 2002, and bracelets from Russia in 2018.

“People change,” she said. “I passed this stage.”

Guzmán has been a football fan since childhood. She became addicted to gambling under the influence of a neighbor in Guadalajara. She and her siblings started recording matches and she started following Chivas, still her favorite club. She never played the game herself.

Her World Cup fixation came about by accident. Barely two years after settling in Los Angeles, Southern California hosted the 1994 World Cup, including the final between Brazil and Italy at the Rose Bowl.

Guzmán volunteered with the World Cup Organizing Committee and “when the tournament started, they gave us tickets,” she said. At that World Cup, she was able to see the United States defeat Colombia 2-1, as well as the final that Brazil won on penalties.

This event on American soil made them unstoppable. A group of 20 friends she found vowed they would all meet up for the 1998 World Cup in France. But when the time came, only two others — one from Guatemala and one from the US — met with Guzmán in Paris.

“We went there without game tickets. We only had accommodation and our flights, nothing else,” she said. She ended up buying resale tickets for about $200 a piece and attended four games.

Bertha Alicia Guzman from Torrance shows some World Cup newspaper clippings she has collected.

Guzmán combs through newspaper clippings from past World Cups.

(James Carbone/Los Angeles Times)

Guzmán got married between the 1998 World Cup and the 2002 tournament. After a year, her husband was history while her true passion remained.

“I’m happily divorced because my ex-husband didn’t like football,” she says, laughing.

Of all her World Cup escapades, South Africa 2010 was the poorest on the budget, costing her around $4,000. The most boring was Japan-South Korea 2002. And the best was Germany 2006.

This visit to Germanic lands exceeded their expectations. Guzmán said the stereotype that Germans are distant is way off the mark. She believes that many World Cup fans this summer, including her, were struck by the overwhelming warmth of both the organizers and the country’s residents.

For example, while watching the Portugal-Mexico game at Gelsenkirchen’s Veltins-Arena, older Germans enjoyed the lively Mexican fans and pulled out cameras to “see the crazy things we were doing, the painted faces, the dancing, the drinking, to hold on . They looked at us with a smile.”

“Germany put together an unbelievable World Cup,” she said. “They were excellent hosts.”

Bertha Alicia Guzman from Torrance holds a small soccer ball signed by Mexican professional soccer player Jorge Campos.

Guzmán holds a mini soccer ball signed by former Mexico national team goalkeeper Jorge Campos.

(James Carbone/Los Angeles Times)

After living through seven of them, Guzmán advises those who want to go to a World Cup to start preparing as soon as the previous tournament ends. Save money and register on the official FIFA website.

Waiting until the last minute “is expensive and becomes a nightmare,” she warned.

In Qatar, of course, she will be cheering for Mexico and her second favorite team, Brazil. But she insists that whether these teams win or lose, the emotional high of a World Cup is hardly the same.

“It’s a beautiful thing: living together, warmth, partying, swapping shirts, taking pictures with other people and living with people from different cultures,” Guzmán said. “It should always be like this. May the world and people always get along like this.” This soccer-mad L.A. Latina has attended seven World Cups. Qatar will make it eight

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