Die-hard soccer fan Francisco Perez plans to be perched on bar stools at ethnic restaurants for the duration of the World Cup, rooting for a Latin American team — any Latin American team — although he’d rather be cheering for the United States.
“I was heartbroken that the USA didn’t qualify” for the World Cup, which is being held through July 15 in Russia, says Perez, 34, of Uniondale, an American of El Salvadoran ancestry. “So I’m rooting for anyone from the Americas to win — Brazil, Peru, Mexico,” Perez said as he watched Peru play Denmark on Saturday at El Ajicito Peruvian Restaurant in Hempstead.
Although Peru lost, Perez and a couple other soccer fan friends were headed the next day to a German-American restaurant to quietly root for Mexico to beat Germany, the 2014 World Cup winner. “I don’t want the cup to stay in Europe, I want it to stay over here” in the Americas, Perez said. (Mexico upset Germany, 1-0.)
WATCHING THE GAMES
World Cup fever is raging across Long Island as soccer fans gather to watch the quadrennial international championship on big-screen television sets at restaurants, bars and backyard barbecues. To support their favorite teams, they wear jerseys emblazoned with their favorite player’s number and paint their faces to match national flags. They celebrate at the top of their lungs whenever their team scores a goal and groan loudly at near misses that shoot past the goalpost.
“It’s like a holiday when there’s a soccer game. Families and friends get together, and they even take off from work to watch,” says Manny Fernandes, 54, of Brentwood, a soccer fan who is a former president of the Long Island Portuguese American Center, a social club and community center in Brentwood. “When their team wins, they go crazy. When they lose, they go into a big depression and talk about it for days”
Fernandes recalled that after Brazil won the World Cup in 1994, parades were held in the Portuguese-American communities in Mineola and Farmingville.
“The World Cup is like Christmas every four years,” said Jeffrey Turchi, 33, of Wantagh, watching the Portugal-Spain game last Friday in the party room at another of Long Island’s soccer-friendly eateries, Lareira Portuguese restaurant in Mineola. “Right now, it’s not that important because the USA and Italy aren’t in it, but it’s soccer, so I watch anyway,” says Turchi, who played soccer for Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville and currently plays the sport with an indoor soccer team at Hofstra University.
But Teresa Matos 46, a native of Aveiro, Portugal, who lives in Queens Village, was so committed to the Portuguese team that she began to tear up when Portugal tied the score late in the game. “This is very exciting,” Matos said. She was wearing a green and red jersey emblazoned with the number 7, the same as Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese soccer superstar and fashion model.
“We never won it [the World Cup] before, and to have [Cristiano] Ronaldo, we have a very good chance of winning,” Matos said.
Hopes were also high at El Ajicito, where fans wore red clothing and painted their faces to match Peru’s uniforms.
“Peru is playing for the first time in 36 years, so people are very emotional right now,” said Iliana Casaretto, 46, of Franklin Square, who was also celebrating her birthday at the restaurant with a piece of tres leches cake. But Casaretto didn’t get her birthday wish. When Peru lost to Denmark, 1-0, there were long faces throughout the room, tempered by the possibility of wins in the remaining games.
“I’m feeling so terrible,” said Pablo Limas, Ajicito’s owner, 45, of Hempstead, “I don’t want to go in the kitchen to cook.”