We knew we were in enemy territory when the teams came out and the chanting began: "Italia! Italia!"
Scott Heidler, FOX News Radio’s Middle East correspondent, and I retreated to a dark corner of the bar in Jerusalem and quietly muttered, "USA" as the teams lined up for this crucial World Cup clash.
Like it or not, even in Israel, a traditional ally of the U.S., the American soccer team is a long way from being the most popular in this World Cup. Rightly or wrongly, every American is subject to the reflexive anti-Americanism that, led by liberal, anti-war media, has taken hold of much of the rest of the world. And the U.S. soccer team stands as a symbol for America in this World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world. So watching the U.S. games in the Middle East can be an unsettling affair.
But as Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers said, a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. As Italy, one of the traditionally strong teams of Europe but also one of the traditionally more sly, began to use every trick in the book to break the Americans, attitudes began to change. First, that appalling elbow to the face that left Bryan McBride bloody but unbowed, and then the Italian theatrics in the face of tough American tackling that led to two U.S. players being sent off, changed the face of the game and the cheers in that Jerusalem bar.
I’ve been avidly watching World Cups since 1974 (actually my mother says I was transfixed by Pele’s heroics in 1970, but given that I was only five at the time I think she might be exaggerating my levels of concentration), and rarely have I seen a more gutsy display than the U.S. team of only nine players gave that night. It was a perfect example of American courage and spirit, and by the end Scott Heidler and I were able to cheer as loudly as we wanted because the whole bar was screaming for an American victory.
It was a truly moving moment for anyone who loves the USA. And also a lesson: sport can sometimes bridge even the greatest divide.
Jonathan Hunt is a correspondent for FOX News Channel based in New York.
Jonathan Hunt currently serves as a New York-based chief correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). Hunt joined the network in 2002 as an international correspondent based in Los Angeles.