World Cup Gets Global Audience in New York

Three times a day, seven days a week, somewhere in New York, one of the city's myriad ethnic communities dances gleefully on the tables while another writhes in collective anguish.

The United States as a whole may be largely indifferent to the passions of the World Cup, but here at "the world's crossroads" every single team playing in Germany can claim a passionate pocket of expat support.

New York's demographic diversity is such that even Trinidad and Tobago — the smallest nation ever to make it to the finals of soccer's biggest tournament — boasts a substantial fan base.

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And most of it was crammed six-deep, shoulder-to-shoulder in The Sugarcane Bar in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon, hoping for an upset against former colonial power England.

"This is the biggest thing ever for Trinidad," shouted Sheldon Bridgeman, a towering 38-year-old construction worker with a joyous disregard for what skipping a shift might mean to his employers.

"Do they mind? Who cares," he beamed. "I can find another job, but Trinidad might not get another World Cup."

For every game played in Germany, the scene in the Sugarcane is replicated somewhere in New York, albeit with cultural variations.

Wildly gesticulating, caffeine-fuelled Italians cheer on "the Azzurri" at Fortunato Brothers Bakery in Brooklyn, Swedes toast their team with four different kinds of herring at the Good World Bar in lower Manhattan, and Czechs knock back the obvious at the Bohemian Beer Garden in Queens.

Some gatherings are, inevitably, smaller than others.

At the In God We Trust African Restaurant in The Bronx, a de facto social center for New York's Ghanaian community, Ahmed Belly, 20, punched the air as Ghana took an unlikely early lead Saturday against the Czech Republic and looked vainly around the empty dining room for someone to celebrate with.

"I don't think there was a lot of confidence we could win," he said with a sad shrug. "They should have had more confidence. They are missing something important here."

In stark contrast to Belly's lonely jubilations, several thousand ecstatic South Koreans packed Manhattan's Koreatown along 32nd Street on Sunday to watch on a giant television screen as their team took on France.

"This is where the action is," said Byunn Young, 49, who, along with his wife, son and daughter, opted to foresake the comfort of his couch at home for a hard, newspaper-covered square of sidewalk.

"We don't like to watch the game alone. Koreans feel more power when we are all together ... more strength," he said.

So large was the Korean gathering, that it even drew local politicians hoping to grab a slice of reflected goodwill.

"It's a great chance for the whole community to get together with spirit, emotion and pride," city counsellor John Liu said as he handed out name cards with abandon.

"Today Koreatown is more Korean than ever," he added.

Across the East River in Brooklyn, opposing French fans crammed into the Bar Tabac bistro, only to leave dejected after Korea's last-gasp equaliser.

The bar's manager, Didier Chanteloup, believes the colour and passion surrounding the World Cup is finally starting to break down U.S. resistance to the sport that dominates the rest of the globe.

"In Barcelona, you would only get Spanish fans and in Paris it would be nearly all French," Chanteloup said.

"In New York, there are so many different nationalities that each bar can adopt a different team. "So you can't really avoid the cup here and even the locals are getting involved," he said.

New York-based football fans have benefitted from the World Cup being played in Germany, which means group games being broadcast at 9 a.m., midday and at 3 in the afternoon.

For the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, most matches were shown in the middle of the night or very early in the morning.

All 64 cup games are being broadcast live on the ABC national network and ESPN sports network, as well as the Spanish-language Univision channel which caters to the big Hispanic population.

For Juan Pablo Munoz, newly arrived in New York from Ecuador, watching his team with a crowd of compatriots at the Lighthouse Tavern in Brooklyn, owned by a Costa Rican, is a bittersweet experience, tinged with homesickness.

"It's a way of being transported back home," Munoz said.

"It's like having a beer in Avenida Amazonas in Quito, where everybody goes for the football celebrations."