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World Cup opener draws devoted soccer fans

Frank and Tina Servidio of Elmont watched the

Frank and Tina Servidio of Elmont watched the World Cup opener Thursday at the Plattduetsche Park Restaurant and Biergarten in Franklin Square. Credit: Edward B. Colby

The soccer extravaganza that is the World Cup only comes around every four years.

“This is it right here,” Jim Ort said Thursday as he watched the kickoff game of the 2018 tournament between host Russia and Saudi Arabia — highlighting the importance of the Cup and the Euro championships for the sport.

Things got off to a quiet start at Plattduetsche Park Restaurant and Biergarten in Franklin Square, where Ort, 48, a sanitation worker from Levittown, was among the small number of devoted soccer fans who turned out to see the first match in the middle of the day.

It ended up a blowout, with Russia winning 5-0. It was Russia’s first World Cup victory since 2002.

“The only reason” Russia is in the World Cup “is because they’re the host country,” said Charles Lambert, 44, a physician assistant from West Babylon. He thinks it will be the only game Russia wins in the tournament, Lambert said.

Ort disagreed, saying that Russia will probably win its group, which includes Uruguay and Egypt. He’s pulling for Germany, which has Brazil and France standing in its way, he said.

But the overall World Cup field is weaker than usual, Ort said, citing Italy and the Netherlands as two big teams that didn’t make it.

“This year there isn’t a ‘group of death’ because there isn’t that many strong teams,” he said.

The United States didn’t qualify for the quadrennial tournament for the first time in decades — but it was just named as one of the hosts of the 2026 event, along with Mexico and Canada.

Thursday’s match held a different sort of appeal for Kristyn Kaufmann.

“I like sports for the theatrics of it,” said Kaufmann, 23, of Glen Head, an LSU graduate. Plus there was beer, good food and company — specifically Ryan Johnson, 30, of Massapequa. Russia will advance, but not go further than that, said Johnson, who works for the Nassau Health Department.

Plattduetsche Park will show all of the World Cup matches. It will also have a special breakfast menu, said the biergarten’s operations manager, Christina Alexander. She called it “very exciting” to be working in the biergarten for the first time during the World Cup, after working in the front of the restaurant previously.

“Sunday we’re expecting a really big crowd because of Germany,” said Alexander, 27, of Lynbrook.

Frank Servidio of Elmont caught the opener with his wife, Tina, who said she was enjoying the game as his sidekick.

He said he didn’t care about the Russian team — and was pulling for an underdog, Iceland.

“The whole country shows up. They’re [Icelanders] all going to watch it. It’s amazing,” said Servidio, 55, an air traffic controller. “But I don’t think they’re going to do well.”

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