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Ardent fans pack bars to see World Cup

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Work? What work?

That has basically been the rallying cry for thousands of soccer fans throughout Queens since the most ethnically diverse borough in the country was struck by World Cup fever.

With every game of the 2002 World Cup broadcast live from South Korea and Japan, many diehard soccer fans have stayed up late or gotten up early to watch the matches.

The result is a bevy of tired workers, or in some cases inebriated employees.

“You can’t watch the games at home,” said Aaron Hickey, 22, a Woodside resident and a native of County Tipperary in Ireland. “We took the day off. Everyone else is going to work drunk.”

Hickey was among hundreds who packed into bars in Woodside to watch Ireland take on Saudi Arabia early Tuesday morning.

While many rushed toward the No. 7 train and LIRR a block away to get to work, Paul McCarthy, 32, joined nearly 50 Irish supporters, all wearing something green, to watch the match at Copper Face Jacks on Woodside Avenue.

“I haven’t gotten much sleep, but it’s worth it,” said the Woodside resident. “It’s just a great atmosphere. I’m not working full time at the moment, so I guess that’s a blessing in a way.”

Just seven minutes into the match, McCarthy and the rest of the crowd erupted as Robbie Keane, the hero of Ireland’s thrilling 1-1 tie against Germany last week, scored to put Ireland ahead, 1-0.

But supporters, like Billy Healey, a bartender at Copper Face Jacks, were concerned about Ireland’s slim 1-0 halftime lead because, unless the Irish scored two goals, Germany and Cameroon would advance to the second round of the World Cup if their game ended in a draw. And the Irish would be sent home.

“I was worried because we were passing back too much,” said the Limerick native who calls Maspeth home. “We needed some goals.”

Seventeen minutes into the second half, Healey and the rest of the Irish faithful got their wish as Gary Breen flicked the ball into the net. Healey blared an air horn and led the jubilant bunch into a well-known soccer chorus, “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole.”

Damien Duff added a third goal late as Ireland advanced to the second round of the World Cup for only the second time ever. Ireland will probably face Spain in the second round Sunday at 7:30 a.m.

Hickey, for one, will again be out watching that match.

“When we’re winning, we’re winning,” he said. “Bring on Spain!”

While World Cup fever has yet to grip the average American, it was evident among Irish immigrants throughout Woodside Tuesday.

Luckily for Aisling Reavey, a native of County Armagh who lives in Maspeth, Tuesday was her lone day off from her job as a bartender at Post Time in Elmhurst.

“Nobody wants to go to work,” said Reavey, who watched the match from Sean Og’s Pub on Woodside Avenue, where her cousin Ciara McParland tends bar. “I’ve had a great time coming to the matches. It’s even better on weekends when no one has to work.”

Gina McCarthy was all smiles after the match, especially since she was one of the few who did not need to worry about work.

“I’m here on holiday,” said McCarthy, 31, from Dublin. “It’s wilder back home, but it is a great atmosphere here. I knew Ireland would pull through.”

About two miles up Roosevelt Avenue there was also a festive atmosphere in the wee hours of the morning Sunday as Latin Americans prepared for the clash between Ecuador and Mexico.

While just about every Latin American nation is represented along Roosevelt Avenue, it seemed that in the early morning hours Sunday there were just two countries to choose from — Mexico and Ecuador.

Nearly every bar and restaurant along the bustling avenue in Jackson Heights had the Mexican and Ecuadorian flags waving and had signs in front of their establishments advertising the match.

In the hours before the match, fans of both nations chanted and beeped their horns for their country. A group of Mexican supporters stood outside a large white house on the corner of 85th street and Roosevelt Avenue, proudly waving the Tricolors while screaming, “Meh-he-co, Meh-he-co.”

One block away, five Ecuadorian supporters with a large yellow, blue and red flag in their hands, chanted for their country.

In Chibcha Restaurant and Nightclub on 79th street and Roosevelt Avenue, fans of both countries gathered to watch the match and dance to salsa and merengue music. Many of the men stayed on the dance floor when the match started at 2:30 a.m., but quietly turned to face the large-screen television while still dancing with their partners.

Five minutes later though, their gig was up as a loud roar resonated throughout the large restaurant when Ecuador went ahead, 1-0. Mexico tied the match in the 28th minute to a smattering of cheers.

Outside of Chibcha, as well as many other establishments along Roosevelt Avenue, there was a large police presence. Police barriers lined up along the sidewalk and officers from several precincts assembled to ensure the night would end peacefully.

The mood was much more reserved Saturday morning among about 20 Italian supporters from Whitestone at Acquista’s Trattoria on Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows, some of whom woke up early while others were still out from the night before, to see Italy take on Croatia at 5 a.m..

Despite an early round of espressos and cappuccinos, the group, all wearing blue jerseys and sweatshirts supporting the Azzurri, were silent during the scoreless first half.

The emergence of the sun, as well as a half-time bagel run and another round of coffees, energized the crowd in the second half. When Christian Vieri put Italy ahead 1-0 on a header in the 55th minute, the group erupted. One supporter was so rambunctious, his coffee spilled onto the floor.

But about 20 minutes later the fans were shocked into silence as Croatia scored two goals in a three-minute span to take a 2-1 lead. It appeared Italy scored the game-tying goal late in the match, but Filippo Inzaghi’s tally, which again sent the group to their feet, was called off because of controversial foul against Italy.

The group, some cursing and muttering under their breaths in English and Italian, left Acquista’s a short time later, disappointed because of the 2-1 loss.

World Cup fever isn’t just reserved for Queens adults, however. At the Metropolitan Oval in Maspeth, where soccer is THE sport, the World Cup is a constant conversation starter.

“Every day I come here and we talk about the games we saw and try and do the same moves we see on the field,” said Hugo Guzman, 15, from Sunnyside. “I go to school at 7 a.m. so if I want to see the games I have to get up at 2 a.m. and then on Monday to Thursday nights I have practice. Even though I’m dead tired from watching the games I like it.”

Eric Maimon, 11, from Canarsie agrees.

“I just go to sleep early so I can catch the games,” he said. “This is only every four years, so you can’t take it for granted.”

“It’s hard because you have school the next day,” added Carlos Moncaleano, 17, from Jackson Heights. Like Guzman, he attends Long Island City High School. “But there is no time to sleep.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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