Not long after noon on June 11 at the Playwright Irish Pub in South Beach, the predominantly pro-American crowd was silent. It had nothing to root for in this opening round of World Cup action. A flat-footed Team USA was unraveling against the Czech Republic, down two-zip entering the second half.
At the end of the wooden bar, a slender blond chap shook his head in disgust as the Americans squandered another scoring opportunity. Jason Kelly, a God-save-the-Queen soccer fan from Yorkshire, England, said he has been in Miami for the past seventeen years. The limo driver added he would like to see Great Britain versus Deutschland in the finals, but he hoped Team USA would advance anyway. "America doesn't take the game as seriously as it should," he complained. "You should come here when Brazil plays you won't even be able to stand in here."
As for the game: "The United States got no finish!"
When Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky outran several Team USA defenders to score his second goal of the game, shouts of "No! No! No!" filled the moody room.
The Czechs went up three to zero and closed out the game. "Give me a fuckin' break!" Kelly groused. "Ya monkeys!"
On Thursday, June 15, the Soca Warriors were in Germany, representing the smallest nation in history to qualify for the World Cup Trinidad and Tobago and this was their biggest game. Colonizer versus former colony: England versus T&T.
As fortune would have it, the date was also Corpus Christi, one of many public holidays on the islands. The crowd of migrants at the office of the consulate general on Brickell Avenue was mostly made up of workplace runaways, all clad in their native red and black.
"Excuse me. Don't you work?" one gray-haired gentleman asked another.
"I called and said I was in a meeting," his chum replied with finger quotes and an uproarious laugh.
The glass walls were covered in Soca Warriors news clippings and posters, and at half-time, the conference room turned into party central, complete with a well-stocked bar manned by two bartenders and a table laden with delicious roti.
Then one large gentleman in the corner led the crowd in the familiar chant, "T and T, we want a goal!" Unfortunately the Soca Warriors were denied. England's loutish striker, Peter Crouch, scored a goal in the 83rd minute after yanking the dreadlocks of Trinidad and Tobago's defender Brent Sancho a move that brought a chorus of tooth-sucking from the disgruntled audience.
When England scored again, the Trinis fell silent. Some fans got up and left. Others headed straight to the bar. One middle-age gent ordered a straight rum. "They beat us two-nil, but them boys still did we country proud," he said, grimacing.
Across town at the British-owned Churchill's Pub, a wiry man perched on a bar stool, pint in hand, fag in mouth, draped from head to toe in an English flag, sporting a David Beckham shirt underneath. At the top of his lungs, Javier Cruz shouted, "Vamos, vamos, Inglaterra! Vamos, vamos, David Beckham!" Indeed Britain's most jovial fan at this bar was Cuban.
The twenty or so vocal Brits in a crowd of about 50 continually muttered "You stupid wanker" and "You great plonker" for 83 minutes. They routinely berated the ref with cries of "That's a load of bloody bollocks" and "Dodgy call, mate."
As Cruz, who was perched on a wooden stool at the pub's dimly lit oval bar, put it: The blokes from Britain were perhaps too busy hoping U2's Bono might show up as he did during a Rugby World Cup match in 2003.
But El Cubano said he was here for only one reason: "Because," he said in heavily accented English, "nobody knows how to bend it like Beeeeeckham!" And sí, Beckham delivered one of his notorious crosses, which led to the first of the Brits' two goals.
Celebration does not diminish even when a win is obvious. To wit: When Argentina scored its first goal against Serbia and Montenegro early on June 16, three baby-blue-and-white-bedecked Argentine men sitting in front of a large-screen TV at Novecento in South Beach hopped up. Then they linked arms and jumped around in a circle. Though the Angolan team couldn't score at all, the trio repeated the dance with as much fervor on the sixth goal.
Where was Miami-Dade's Mexican community for the June 16 Mexico versus Angola match? Would you believe Señor Frog's in Coconut Grove? Yes, the same establishment advertised across the buxom chests of Midwestern coeds disembarking from Cancún. You thought it was good only for wet T-shirt contests?
On game day the green jerseys in the restaurant's indoor patio were as thick and verdant as a suburban lawn. There were, however, snakes lingering in the grass. Take Joel Becerra, a laid-back 21-year-old who was sitting at a table with a friend's family. Wasn't he worried los Mexicanos couldn't score? "Oh, I'm Chilean," he shrugged. "They invited me, so I put on a Mexican jersey. I'd be happy if any Latin American team wins."
But for the real Mexico fans, what began as a confident and chatty Friday afternoon devolved into knuckle-biting angst quite quickly. No one, it seemed, could put the ball in the net. With eleven minutes to go, an Angolan was red-carded and expelled. Advantage: Mexico. But there was still no goal. A displaced pigeon swooped down over the screen. Was it a sign? No.
The goal-less tie meant Angola's first ever World Cup point. The dejected spectators pushed away their gallo pinto and signaled to their waiters for the check.
The following day, la squadra Azzurra (Italy) faced off against the United States in an exchange that drew blood, a trio of red cards, and ended in a bitter tie. Italians from both sides of the pond packed into Café Silvano on Alton Road. Fifteen minutes before game time, the curtains were drawn and the doors closed; there wasn't an empty seat in the house. As the team's respective flags were carried onto the field, the bar erupted with a tribal chant: "U-S-A, U-S-A!"
Silvano, the tan, silver-maned proprietor, shrieked, "I-tal-ia!" from the register.
The U.S. anthem played. "It's beautiful music, your anthem," said Ricardo, a swarthy Argentine tennis pro. "They always play it a cappella. America would be great if they played their music." He then lauded Cuban womankind and ordered a New Times reporter a tartufo.
As the game commenced, a contingent of beer-swilling Americans pondered the fine points of soccer. After nearly every offside call, Frankie Marinara, a bald, hairy businessman in shorts, cried, "That's a bad rule. That should be changed."
A full 35 seconds of applause followed an Italian goal; it erupted again, briefly, for the replay.
"What's all the goddamn emotion?" wondered Jeff Salidor (Hawaiian shirt, in the wine business). "It's not the goddamn Super Bowl."
When an Italian defender blew it and scored for the United States four minutes later, Marinara slapped the New Times reporter painfully on the back.
Then it got ugly. Midfielder Daniele De Rossi bloodied Brian McBride with a mean elbow to the face and was removed from the game. The United States' Pablo Mastroeni was red-carded for a vicious sliding tackle; the bar booed. Silvano turned and offered his patrons a smile, a slap of his bicep, and a pump of the fist.
"I say an eye for an eye" remarked Jenna Scales, an FIU student with frizzy black hair and an athletic boyfriend. "Yeah, [Mastroeni] got a red card, but we got them back, didn't we?"
Armando, Silvano's maitre d', was a little flabbergasted by the bloodshed. "It looks like the U.S. is playing against Iraq," he said with an exasperated grin. "I mean, at the end of the day, it's a fucking game."
The battle theme continued into the second half, when Eddie Pope was red-carded, leaving the States at a distinct disadvantage.
In the end, the U.S. held its own. Tony Cerasuolo and Paolo Di Carlo, a pair of Neapolitan soccer players wearing blue Italian jerseys, offered complimenti to "la squadra Americana." They said the States would be a real contender in the next World Cup.
At 3:00 a.m. June 18, Beatles cover band the Beethose was celebrating Paul McCartney's 64th birthday at Churchill's Pub. Beer was spilled everywhere, and the spillage barely had time to coagulate before the pub reopened the next morning at 10:00 for soccer fans.
At 11:00 a.m., about 50 people were inside the Little Haiti landmark for the Australian-Brazilian showdown. The only Aussies in the house were a small family huddled in a darkened corner. They were all blond, and one of the girls wore an Aussie flag shirt. At half-time, they slinked out, refusing to acknowledge both a panhandler and a reporter's questions in the gravel parking lot.
Maria Meirelles, a twenty-year-old Brazilian visiting her Argentine boyfriend in Miami, said the scene at Churchill's made her proud and confused. "It's good to see all the [Brazilians] supporting the team," she said. "I didn't necessarily expect it in Miami, especially not in an English bar in a Haitian neighborhood."
Boyfriend Juan Deschelles, a native of Buenos Aires, said he expected a good game and that he was willing to support Brazil (though not, apparently, willing to don a jersey like Maria) as long as they weren't playing Argentina.
A few miles north, about 30 Brazilians drank free beer and watched the game on a big screen under a tent perched beside West Dixie Highway at NE 183rd Street. A guy named Betão João de Moraes handed out free beer and shish kebab (piranha) as the team stormed through the second half.
Though two goals from Leite Adriano and Chaves Fred rocketed the tournament favorites to the next round, 50-year-old Joe Menezes wasn't satisfied. The owner of Via Brasil had rented the TV and tent and paid for the beer just because he loves soccer. "They should have made a lot of goals," he commented and then paused, not wanting to seem rude. "But hey, that's who we Brazilians are. We like to be together, scream, and complain."
Later that day, in the darkened environs of Flanigan's Seafood Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, it was three men versus one woman during the first half of the France versus North Korea game. The three fellows, dark-haired and tan, were dressed in twee iterations of bleu foncé, the French team's color. One of the men, the tallest, sporting a soul patch and a curly Frafro, was apparently coupled with the woman, who more closely resembled a rustic Courtney Love than the Maid of Orleans.
French chatter about rental cars and a noisy hotel was interspersed with ruminations about the tepidly played game. The men split a pitcher of light American beer, then two, then three, as the woman ordered some chicken wings and sipped gin-and-tonics.
All seemed well when France went ahead early as striker Thierry Henry nailed a goal.
Then Mme. Love upset the match, unseating herself unsteadily from her beau's side to assume a position between the other two men. Another round of brews and cocktails escalated heated glares to hissed exchanges. The half of the quartet being used as foils stared at the TV screen as the quarreling couple parried with louder and louder phrases, alluding to bouts of drunken infidelity.
Then aging French soccer hero Zinedine Zidane drew his second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he would miss the last group match against Togo the following Tuesday.
The quartet became a threesome when the frustrated 'fro-bearer slammed his stein down, departing with the universally understood cry of "Suce mon bite, salope!"
When Park Ji-Sung equalized for the Korean team in the final five minutes of the game, France's hopes of reaching the tournament of sixteen were hanging by a thread.
It wasn't the turnout he'd expected. At 1:00 p.m. Monday, June 19, Rodrigo Estadella, manager of OLA Steak & Tapas in the valet-filled Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables, scanned his airy restaurant. The tables, modern designs with nice place settings, were all empty.
Four people sat at the bar, only two of them watching the Ukraine-Saudi Arabia game on the flat-screen TV set. "The game times make it hard to get people here for the World Cup," Estadella admitted, referring to the seven-hour time difference between Germany and the East Coast.
A tall, handsome man from Madrid who wore a pastel-stripe oxford and tie, Estadella had distributed glossy cards advertising his World Cup lunch menu and two-for-one drink specials. He even posted a short ad on Craigslist.
He expected a spike in business, but it never happened. "Maybe if the games were in Mexico, in the evening on TV here, the response would be better," Estadella complained.
Just then, the TV blared, "Goooooooaaaaaal!"
Estadella turned quickly toward the screen. Ukraine had scored again. Then he admitted defeat; he should have listened to his wife. "She's from Ecuador," he added. "She watches all the games. But she watches at home. I asked her why why not go out? öThe times are bad to go out. They're too early.'"
In a few hours, when Estadella's team, Spain, would play Tunisia, at least one person would be watching: Rodrigo Estadella.
It was 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, June 20. But inside Fritz and Franz Bierhaus in Coral Gables, it felt later. The five-dollar, sixteen-ounce bottles of Erdinger were going down smooth as Germany led Ecuador two to zero. The bar was packed with a 70/30 split of German fans versus enthusiastic Latinos in yellow jerseys. Spirits ran as high as mounting bar tabs.
A young Ecuador fan fired up the crown with a rousing cheer of "Olé, olé, olé olé olé!" before the beginning of the second half.
Tom, a middle-age man with gray hair and steel blue eyes, focused intently on the plasma screen. "Why aren't I at work? Because of the game," he growled. "I'm sick."
Sebastian Storfner, a 23-year-old graduate student at FIU, was a bit friendlier. "We've got to win the Cup!" the Munich native shouted with a healthy accent. Storfner wasn't interested in that night's NBA Finals. "American sports ... aren't really popular in Europe. They just take too long, with all of the breaks and stuff."
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After Germany scored a third goal, Rodrigo G., a baby-faced drinker, said he was "just cheering for Ecuador to get one goal." After partying all night to celebrate his birthday, Rodrigo was shy about revealing his age. "Since I'm drinking, I'm going to say that I'm 23." His friend Mischa Rosenthel added that they will be back on Saturday, wearing Germany's jerseys.
And how old are you, Mischa?
"I'm 18 ... 19 ... 22!" he pronounced.
Well, technically they are all old enough to drink in Germany. Prost to that!