Inside Papaye, a Ghanaian restaurant along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, the mood was festive but restless. A hundred or so people, probably all of us either Ghanaian immigrants or Caucasian journalists, had jammed ourselves into this spartan dining room to watch the U.S.A-Ghana World Cup match.
A few late arrivals were still searching in vain for an available chair when Clint Dempsey put the U.S. up 1-0 just :30 into the match. Now, nearly an hour had passed without these disciples of the Black Stars, many of whom were clad in the traditional Ghanaian colors of red, yellow and green, having had anything more to cheer for than errant shots on goal.
Some of the younger men had already dived into bowls of fufu or okra stews, their fingers serving as utensils. One courageous male, and only one, wrapped himself in the red, white and blue of the American flag and refused to—or was simply too excited to—sit down or cease moving throughout the restaurant throughout the unfolding drama. In other precincts this jester might be referred to as a “hater,” but his smile was so exuberant and constant that his fellow countrymen could only good-naturedly scold him.
Papaye is an alcohol-free establishment, but you’d never have known it from the behavior of its denizens. The second-half insertions of injured Ghanaian stars Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien elicited New Year’s Eve-quality celebrations, while Andre Ayew’s leveler in the 82nd minute incited a seismic quake of euphoria. A father and son who had been sharing a chair next to me, one cheek per man, rose and embraced. The son, in his early twenties, repeatedly made the sign of the cross in giving thanks.
Then, suddenly, it was over. John Brooks’ header three minutes later put the Yanks up for good, 2-1, as the Yankee Doodle apostate literally marched up and down the diner’s lone corridor. A lovely young woman in a sarong of the flag’s colors and a black top shooed him out of the diner as the other patrons cheered, but half-heartedly.
Minutes later, Papaye was virtually empty. Outside, Ghanaians were commiserating and discussing their chances of defeating either Portugal (possible) or Germany (never). A few storefronts down, the American-flag man had ducked into a barber shop to gloat. Two of the barbers apprehended him and pretended to pummel him. All three wore glorious smiles.
In an earlier Group D match between a pair of highly-touted European sides, Germany humbled Portugal, 4-0. Thomas Muller scored a hat trick, the first of this World Cup, while also inducing Portuguese defender Pepe to head him, which earned the latter a red card. He will miss Sunday’s match in the jungle of Manaus versus the United States, which now becomes a de facto elimination game for both sides (assuming that the Yanks will fare no better versus die Mannschaft when they meet).
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning holder of the FIFA Ballon d’Or as the world’s premier footballer, was ineffective in this match between two nations currently ranked in FIFA’s top four. Germany looked fit, precise and efficient, and for the fourth consecutive World Cup scored at least four goals in their opener.
As for the Iberian peninsula, last month Lisbon hosted a UEFA Champions League final that matched a pair of Madrid-based clubs (Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid). Spain, defending World Cup champions, arrived in Brazil as the top-ranked nation by FIFA and Portugal as the fourth. Now, through two matches against northern European foes, the Netherlands and Germany, respectively, they have been outscored 9-1.
While the Group H matches do not commence until today, London oddsmakers have already declared the World Cup over for all but three sides: Argentina, Germany and the hosts, Brazil. Ladbrokes has Selecao as a 3:1 favorite, while their neighbors to the south, the Argentines, are second at 19:5. The Germans, who lost in the 2006 final in their homeland to Brazil (foreshadowing and turnabout, perhaps?), are listed at 9:2.
Of that trio, right now die Mannschaft is the surest bet. Outside of those three, the Dutch have looked the most impressive.
Match of the Day
Brazil vs. Mexico
3 p.m. Fortaleza (ESPN)
Brazil scored four goals in its opener, although the first was struck into its own net. The play of Selecao was far less impressive than the final 3-1 score, and Mexico looked sharp in in a 1-0 shutout of Cameroon. A win today will give one of these teams six points and a berth in the knockout round of 16.
Wager of the Day
Algeria vs. Belgium
Noon, Belo Horizonte (Noon)
The Red Devils may be an afterthought on a continent that boasts former World Cup champions Germany, Spain, Italy, England and France, but they happen to be ranked 11th in the world by FIFA. These two sides last met in 2003, a 0-0 draw. Keep an eye on Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League.