In most of the world’s major cities, soccer fans will spend the next five weeks rooting for their national teams in the 2014 World Cup.
In Sao Paulo, fans will be cheering for Brazil. In Paris, they’ll be pulling for the French team. In London, the English team. In Tokyo, the Japanese.
But in Miami, international melting pot that it is, there is no communal favorite team. Depending which bar, restaurant or neighborhood you happen to find yourself in during a match, you could be surrounded by rabid fans of the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Honduras, England, France, Spain, Germany — and the list goes on.
If you head to Kukaramakara in downtown Miami on Thursday afternoon to watch the Brazil vs. Croatia opening match, you will feel like you have been transported to Brazil. There are plans for a street carnival, including a 25-foot Brazilian float, samba dancers, a live batucada band and a performance by the trick-filled Futbol Kings, soccer’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.
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Later during the tournament, Kukaramakara will revert to its traditional Colombian style and be a gathering spot for fans of Los Cafeteros, who can commiserate about the loss of injured star Radamel Falcao.
If you go to the Fox & Hound in Oakland Park, you will find diehard England fans like Jelene Dressler of Stuart, who covers herself from head to toe in St. George’s crosses. She has her fingernails and toenails done white with red crosses. Red cross earrings hang from her ears. Her license plate reads “UK LVR.” She takes red duct tape and puts crosses on her white visor, on her white shoes.
Dressler and her husband, John Kane, showed up at the England-Ecuador match at Sun Life Stadium last Wednesday carrying a giant red sign that read: “Keep Calm, and World Cup on!”
Funny thing is, Dressler is not from England. She was born and raised in the United States, followed the NFL and college football and never paid soccer any attention until her job in the travel industry took her to Manchester, England, for 10 days per month from 2005 to 2007.
“A friend took me to my first Manchester United match at Old Trafford, and I had never seen anything like it,” Dressler said. “The whole country goes absolutely crazy for soccer, especially during the World Cup. What I love about soccer is that you can talk about it to people all over the world, and you command immediate respect with them because you share that passion for the same sport.
“I love, love, love that fact. Anywhere in the world you go, you have something in common with people if you follow soccer.”
Over time, her NFL-loving husband, John Kane, came to enjoy soccer, and now he is as passionate as she is.
While Dressler is going bonkers for England, Leandro Gutierrez and his friends will do all they can from their Brickell condo living rooms to cheer the Uruguayan team to victory in each round.
Gutierrez, 40, is a tennis pro at Salvador Park in Coral Gables. He is such a World Cup junkie that he organized a World Cup-themed tennis tournament for Saturday. Entrants are encouraged to play in their favorite national soccer team jerseys, and decorate the court area with flags.
“There are so many people here from so many parts of the world, I thought it would be fun to share the World Cup spirit with them on the tennis court,” he said.
Gutierrez lives and dies with the Uruguayan national team. Four years ago, it finished third at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and Gutierrez feels he and his friends had something to do with the team’s success. You see, they are superstitious, so the 10 friends gathered in Gutierrez’s living room and sat in the same chairs for each Uruguay match, and ate the same food — ham and cheese media luna sandwiches.
The team kept winning, so two of the friends decided to fly to South Africa for Uruguay’s semifinal. Bad decision. The team lost to Netherlands.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, South Florida’s diehard soccer fans had to meet at bars in the wee hours to catch their team’s matches on closed-circuit television. Now, most matches of interest are carried on cable networks in the United States, and this World Cup is in a favorable time zone for U.S. viewers, with afternoon and early-evening matches.
Though fans can watch at home, many seek out the atmosphere of popular World Cup watch spots such as Sushi Samba on South Beach for Brazil fans, Manolo’s on Miami Beach for Argentine fans, George’s in South Miami for French fans, and Fritz and Franz in Coral Gables for German and Swiss fans. Fados on Brickell is a gathering spot for U.S. fans, among others.
Four years ago, Argentine fans filled Manolo’s for a 6:30 a.m. World Cup match against South Korea. After the 4-1 victory, the fans spilled onto the sidewalk, sang, and banged on giant drums.
“I will have all the games projected onto a giant screen, and for the France games, free champagne,” said George Farge, owner of George’s on Sunset in South Miami. “I am expecting big crowds, especially when France plays. The World Cup has gotten bigger and bigger in the U.S. each time.”
Luis Enrique Calix, known by his fans as “El Gavilan” (The Hawk), is a former midfielder of the Honduran national team. He played World Cup qualifiers in the early 1990s, retired and moved to Miami 14 years ago to work construction and coach soccer at Kendall Soccer Coalition.
He was among the tens of thousands of Hondurans at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday for the World Cup tune-up against England.
“The passion for the World Cup in Miami is exactly like it is in Honduras, and in some ways I like it better because here when you come to a match, the wives and kids come and you barbecue with the family, and we don’t do that back home,” he said. “The World Cup allows us to gather with other Hondurans and share a special moment together. We live all over the city, but we find each other for the World Cup. It’s a beautiful thing.”
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