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World Cup 2010: A tale of two pubs — and peoples

The English and the Americans advance — but at a decidedly different pace.

While the Irish-born clearly knew their p’s and q’s, several of the American patrons arouse suspicion. Jason, one of a group of 20-somethings from Brooklyn College, admitted he really wasn’t interested in the Cup but “the thought of hangin’ in a bar all morning was kinda interesting.”

But even among the Irish, the devotion to the pure ballet of it all seemed lacking. Ireland’s side, somewhat famously if you’re Irish, had been displaced in South Africa by France in a qualifying match decided by a goal that, upon video examination, clearly was put into the goal by a Frenchman’s hand.

The search for vengeance was palpable in Foley’s Thursday as France played — improbably for a great European football power — for its World Cup life against South Africa. Foley’s, from the start, had promised a shot for every goal scored against the hated French, whose many efforts to arm Irish rebellions against England through the centuries have been erased by the hand of a French striker.

“Bloody duplicitous Frenchmen,” Connor O’Failan, who lives in the Bronx, railed as they took the pitch. The crowd booed and hissed every time a French player touched the ball. When, 20 minutes in, South Africa scored the first of its two goals, the bar erupted and shots were served all around.

A second goal about 15 minutes later added fuel to the fire, so that, by the time the French managed a meager single goal toward the end of the match, no one seemed to notice.

“Serves them bloody right,” O’Failan said. “I’ve seen justice done.”

The Brooklyn College kids looked on with bemusement, but happily drank down the free shots and many others besides.

Indeed, vengeance seemed to be the point in the U.S., and not just at Foley’s. When the U.S. tied England 1-1 during the tournament’s first weekend, references to Bunker Hill and Paul Revere were all over the U.S. newspapers. Evidence in those same papers that anyone in America paid attention to the other matches that weekend were few and far between.

The English, steeped in their history of frustrating early exits in World Cup tournaments, huffed and kicked the dirt. “Not Again!” read the headline in the Sunday Times of London. Americans wouldn’t have known what “again” referred to.

So, yes, we can play with the best — we’ve yet to show we can really beat the best — but there’s no reason to think we can’t. But the American men on the field and the tiny percentage of fans who understand what they are up to still seems to be disproportionately small.

The U.S. already has outlasted France and Italy in the tournament, and we may outlast Germany and England, too. But it would still be an enormous exaggeration to say that football — a.k.a. soccer — has set down roots in America.