World Cup Soccer (Oops Football) Draws Big Crowds but US Viewers Often Fail to Know the Score

THE instant the clock stopped on Germany's 1-0 victory over Bolivia in the first World Cup game here June 17, German soccer fans Helmut Scheider and Hennes Junker began celebrating with riotous cries of ``Sieg!''- victory!

But only a few blocks from the stadium packed with 63,000 soccer buffs at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago, a group of Chicagoans had a different reaction to the game.

``It seems to be over. I think the score is still 0-0,'' said a volunteer at one of the city's tourist information booths, squinting at the Spanish-speaking announcer on a tiny television screen. Only Chicagoans with access to the cable sports channel ESPN could receive an English-language broadcast.

``What happens when there's a tie?'' another volunteer wondered aloud, pulling out a copy of a magazine and scanning an article on soccer titled, ``How the Game is Played.''

The clash - or divergence - of sports cultures was tangible in Chicago on the opening day of the World Cup. While up to a billion people around the world watched the match on television, many in the city of big shoulders just shrugged.

``I'm not watching it,'' said a bellman at a hotel on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, who seemed uninspired by the ubiquitous soccer balls and thousands of World Cup banners displayed along the lake front outside.

The bellman, who gave his name as Kyren, was equally blase about the crowds of foreign soccer fans filling the hotel to near capacity. ``They come from all these itty-bitty countries, but they all look the same to me,'' he said, drawing up his shoulders.

The lack of American enthusiasm for the world's most popular sport drew surprise from some of the 100,000 or so foreign visitors and 1,500 overseas reporters here for the games. According to a recent Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans were unaware that the World Cup competition was being held in the United States. (The Cup runs until July 17, with 52 games scheduled in nine US cities.)

``I think maybe people in Chicago don't know many things about soccer,'' a Bulgarian journalist observed diplomatically. The journalist, Nikola Iotov, is gearing up to cover Bulgaria's match against rival Greece in Chicago on June 26.

``This country is the only country that doesn't care about it,'' Bolivian native Cecilia Aguilar said with disdain. ``Everyone else in the world is attached to their TV sets.''

In Bolivia, many offices shut down on Friday so people could watch the match. An estimated 5,000 Bolivians, including the president and several ministers, flew to Chicago for the game. Meanwhile, a Bolivian shaman staged a ritual to aid Bolivia's low-ranked soccer team against Germany, the defending World Cup champion.

Chicago's hesitant embrace of soccer didn't dampen Friday's post-game hoopla for foreign fans, however. Groups of Bolivians with faces painted in green and white - the national colors - strode along Chicago's lake front saluting each other with cries of ``Viva Bolivia!'' Bolivians said they were proud to have held the Germans to a single goal.

Germans draped themselves in their country's black, red, and gold flag and belted out ``Ole! Ole! We are the champions!'' Rallying for Germany's match on June 21 against Spain, they chanted, ``Zieht den Spaniern die Badehose aus!'' (Take the Spanish swimming trunks off!)

Chicago officials hope the events will help bury the image abroad of a city of mobsters and corrupt politicians.

But a day before Friday's game, as he received the key to the city, Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada quipped: ``Make sure we win tomorrow. You're supposed to be able to fix anything.''

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