World Cup viewing party draws thousands

About 3,500 show up in San Francisco on Thursday to watch Mexico beat France

Aurea Bitencaut could have watched Mexico and France face off in their pool-play match Thursday at her San Francisco home, or in any one of dozens of bars in the city’s downtown.

Instead, she chose to enjoy the World Cup al fresco.

“That’s how we do it in Brazil,” said Bitencaut, a native of that country. “In the streets; it’s our way.”

It wasn’t just her way. Bitencaut was joined by an estimated 3,500 fans who watched the Mexicans beat France 2-0 on a truck-mounted, 13-by-17-foot screen parked on Civic Center Plaza, just across the street from City Hall.

The viewing party was organized by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, which is planning on showing more than a dozen matches over the course of the World Cup, including all of the quarterfinals and semis games, as well as the final match. Included among the sponsors are the San Jose Earthquakes and TeacherBus, whose founder, Jens-Peter Jungclaussen, provided the impetus for the event by staging a wildly successful showing of the 2006 World Cup final in Dolores Park.

“We had 10,000 people out there that year, so we wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the World Cup, bring people out to the parks and do something fun,” Recreation and Parks Department spokesman Elton Pon said.

It was more fun for those folks clad in green, of course. ESPN announcer Adrian Healey estimated the ratio of Mexican supporters to French ones in Peter Mokaba Stadium at 5 to 1, and it was probably twice that in Civic Center Plaza.

The crowd—some sitting on blankets on beach chairs, others standing underneath the shade from twin lines of sycamore trees—cheered wildly at even the simplest dispossession. Even the mere sight of captain Rafael Márquez in the pregame festivities drew cheers.

There were holdouts for Les Blues, such as Arif Khalik, who came from his downtown office dressed in an old-school France jersey emblazoned with Zinedine Zidane’s name and number.

“It’s a great environment, plus there’s the big screen,” Khalik said. “Look at it: Who wouldn’t want to be around here. It’s fun. It’s a football atmosphere.”

Adding to the atmosphere was one Mexico fan who brought a battered red horn that looked and sounded very much like the infamous vuvuzela. He let loose a couple of blasts in the 27th minute after Carlos Salcido was stopped by Hugo Lloris, then put the horn away again.

“Not until they score,” he explained.

It was hard to tell if he followed through on that promise, as the crowd roared its approval at Javier Hernández’s strike in the 64th minute and then again when Cuauhtemoc Blanco converted a penalty.

Then it was over, and the assembled crowd eventually drifted off. They’ll next reconvene on June 23, when the US face Algeria in their final pool-play game.

“I’ll be back here, wearing my U.S. shirt,” Khalik said.

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