World Cup Soccer Draws a Caf'e Crowd

Students from abroad cheer on their favorite team - and it's not the Red Sox - a letter from Boston

FINAL World Cup soccer matches seldom generate much interest in the United States - this year, most Bostonians found the first-place, ``will they disappoint us again?'' Red Sox more compelling. But here in Boston's Back Bay, a local bistro known as Caf'e Rasmus, favored by students from the Berklee School of Music across the street, overflowed with Germans, Australians, Italians, British, New Zealanders, and, yes, even a few Americans. Their necks arched toward two TV sets perched high on the caf'e's walls as they watched two soccer teams battle for the title thousands of miles away.

Four days earlier, the Germans left the caf'e grinning after West Germany beat England on penalty kicks in the semifinals. Now the Germans were back, cheering their team, which hoped to avenge its 1986 loss to Argentina, wanting to see the world's premier soccer trophy hoisted by their countrymen.

The excitement was almost as tangible in this city's Italian North End, when the Azzurri, as Italy's team is known, struggled with the Argentines in their semifinal match.

Executives and blue-collar workers sat side by side in a small coffee house decked with Italian soccer-club pennants. It was a Tuesday at 2 in the afternoon, when other workers are busy behind a desk or jackhammer.

Delicate pastries in a rotating rack beneath the TV sat largely ignored as the buzz of conversation, punctuated by animated gestures, rose and fell with the fortunes of the Italian team.

When Argentina triumphed, people flooded into the street. They stood with blank faces, blocking traffic.

``It was so quiet,'' says Teodoro (Teddy) Pasto, who with his brother owns a small North End sporting goods store. ``I've never seen such a sustained period of mourning.'' He had a stake in the outcome beyond mere emotion: He had ordered boxloads of T-shirts proclaiming Italy as champion. He said he would now have to change the country - and cut the size of the order.

The next day, saddened English fans at Caf'e Rasmus shook their heads as they shook hands with the grinning Germans.

Some local aficionados lacked enthusiasm for the final rounds.

Back Bay barber George Castro, though wearing a shirt suspiciously close to the color of Argentina's team hue, said he was disappointed that ``the same old teams'' had advanced. He had been pulling for the underdogs: Cameroon, the US, and his native Costa Rica. But he quickly added that he still would watch the final match.

The 1994 World Cup should generate a bit more interest: It will be held in the US. The US national team will automatically qualify for the first round, because it is from the host country. It will be another opportunity for the US to win its first World Cup match since an upset victory over England in 1950.

This year, fans in the US and elsewhere had to be content with watching the Germans and Argentines battle it out for the cup - again. In the end, two Argentines were ejected from the game for what in National Football League parlance would be unnecessary roughness. The Germans took the lead on a penalty kick goal.

Knowing that the one-goal margin was sufficient, Germany sat on its lead for the last 10 minutes of the game. It wasn't pretty. It drew hisses, jeers, and whistles from the crowd in Caf'e Rasmus.

But the referee's final whistle silenced the noise and brought West Germany its third World Cup title. The fans in Rome's Olympic stadium waved the flags of both West and East Germany.

Inside Caf'e Rasmus, the Germans just grinned - again.

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