World Cup in San Francisco’s North Beach

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One of the joys of following the World Cup is indulging in national stereotypes. So it is that 18 seconds into their first match one of the Italian players is found writhing in pain on the grass, victim of a foul that in truth wouldn’t have knocked over a dizzy infant.

The Italian fans assembled at Steps of Rome understand this, offering their assessments of each player’s collapse not based on the seriousness of the contact but on the style of the fall and quality of the embellishment. Tormented facial expressions, upturned arms, pleadings to the heavens are all judged by the crowd.

Another stereotype – English fans show up in force hours before the match, like it’s an indoor tailgate party; German fans arrive appropriately early and in an orderly fashion. Steps of Rome, on the other hand, was still half-empty thirty minutes before the match began, with a massive influx of fans arriving just as the national anthems were being sung.

An Italian crowd it was, with at least 3/4 of the people singing the words, many decked in the side’s blue uniforms. Almost everyone within hearing distance (shortened, of course, by the vuvuzelas) was speaking Italian. A woman brought her mother to the match, who was the only person able to shame the tall guy in the gray t-shirt into sitting down so the people in the back could see.

Steps of Rome charged $5 to get in, but instead of offering a B-list beer one could also exchange their ticket for an espresso and croissant or a sizable and tasty panini. This happens when the culture values food more than beer (Germany) or besottedness (U.K.) and was most welcome after a weekend of 9 a.m. wheat beers and brown ales.

There’s also La Dolce Vita intermission (sorry for the generic titles – new software and too lazy to edit).

When Italy won the World Cup in 2006 North Beach was the focus of the celebration in the city. A walk up Columbus at halftime today showed a neighborhood completely attuned to the fact that a match was on. It wasn’t just a sports bar or two with some banners outside. The whole place was watching. Pantarei, just up the street from Steps of Rome, also looks like a fun place to catch a match.

Italy trailed at halftime but benefited from yet another goalkeeper error to tie the game. Italy is in the Cup’s weakest group so advancing to the second round is beyond doubt, which might explain why the Italian play was uninspired, or perhaps the flow of the game was dictated by Paraguay’s defense-first approach.

The driving Cape Town rain didn’t help the quality of play. But it was sunny here so everyone was happy.

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