World Cup fever burns lukewarm

Saudi Arabia's Fahad Almuwallad charges on Uruguay's Diego Godin during the group A match between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (Andrew Medichini/AP Photo)
Saudi Arabia's Fahad Almuwallad charges on Uruguay's Diego Godin during the group A match between Uruguay and Saudi Arabia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (Andrew Medichini/AP Photo)

The World Cup doesn't command much attention on a Wednesday afternoon in Norwich.

Occurring every four years and featuring 32 teams, the World Cup is one of the largest international sporting events. But Mi Casa, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Norwich, was empty as Uruguay defeated Saudi Arabia. And Harp & Dragon, a pub just down the road, didn't even have the game on, instead showing horse racing and New York sports talk shows.

Mi Casa employee Veronica Flores explained the low attendance for the Uruguay versus Saudi Arabia game. Most people are busy with work at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, and the venue is at its most rowdy when the Mexico, Peru or Guatemala squads are playing. The restaurant has shown, and will continue to show, World Cup games, Flores said.

David Brown, a Scotland native and Norwich resident, asked the bartenders at Harp & Dragon to turn the Uruguay game on.

"Football is everything to people from Glasgow, Scotland. You had to be good at it, and if you played it in school, you could show off to your friends," Brown said.

During his 31 years in the U.S., Brown has noticed a rise in soccer's popularity here.

"It's huge now," he said. "It's not as big as any European teams but it's getting there."

Far removed from his soccer-obsessed home country, Brown still fully understands the draw of the World Cup. "For the love of the game and for the love of the fans and the support they show out in foreign lands, it's phenomenal, it's fascinating, I love it," he said.

While many Connecticut bars and restaurants offer special deals during the tournament, the state's attachment to the World Cup, at least in certain establishments, seems to be situational.

At Little Galapagos in New London, one casual fan left at halftime. Another man from Ecuador sat squarely in front of the TV, watching intently.

Then there's Dutch Tavern. Located on Green Street in New London, the small and unassuming tavern played a role it had carved out for itself as a gathering ground for the World Cup. It is the smallest of the four venues mentioned but sported the most patrons: seven. All were focused on the World Cup. Books and newspapers closed once halftime ended in the Spain versus Iran match; silence ensued, temporarily, and eyes shifted to the screen.

Everybody here came to watch soccer.

Owner Peter Detmold is a soccer-lover and his well-known fandom has attracted a group of followers. They know they're in a safe space for the sport.

"I've owned this place for 20 years," Detmold said. "I'm a huge soccer fan, so I always make a point of having it on. It's just kind of developed."

As for his favorite teams: "I root for England but, because they always underachieve, I root for Germany."

The only debate is over whether baseball or soccer is on the TV — that is, when the World Cup isn't taking place. Detmold reportedly is good at oscillating among the grill, the bar and the remote.

"I know people who walk in before the match starts," Detmold said. "People are here every day watching it. People will be here tomorrow watching it."

One of the largest turnouts for a World Cup game at the Dutch occurred last Friday, for the Spain versus Portugal match. Detmold attributed the crowd to it being a weekend, two "loaded" teams were facing off and the fact that many people had finished their work for the day.

Detmold may open on Sundays once the World Cup gets into the knockout stage.

In the agony of soccer is also its greatest appeal: when a player comes so close to scoring so many times, actually putting the ball in the back of the net is that much better. Loud groans, even shouts, came from spectators seated at the bar as powerhouse Spain missed chance after chance near the goal in the early going. The same viewers gasped as underdog Iran missed a golden chance in the 52nd minute "by a whisker," according to the announcer.

Then Spain scored, and a sort of calm settled over the now 10 people gathered. The powerhouse was back in control, and the 54-minute question had been answered.

Wait, Iran notches a goal in the 61st minute! Even the quietest person in the bar verbally exclaimed in surprise.

But they were offsides. Order was restored.

The crowd grew as the game wore on, nearing 15 in this haven for people who care about a sport the world loves but their own country sometimes is indifferent toward.

Iran's Saeid Ezatolahi, right, fights for the ball with Spain's Diego Costa during the group B match between Iran and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo)
Iran's Saeid Ezatolahi, right, fights for the ball with Spain's Diego Costa during the group B match between Iran and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Kazan Arena in Kazan, Russia on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo)

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments