11 AM. Sasha Frere-Jones, Esperanto. Avenue C, East Village, NYC.
According to 2015 data from the US Census Bureau, the population of Block 002800-3-001—Avenue C between 9th and 10th Streets—is 37.8% Hispanic. At 10:30 AM, the Esperanto Restaurant and Bar is full and averaging closer to 50%, if languages being spoken are a reliable indicator. The profile of Esperanto is Brazilian with a tilt towards pan-Latin: the huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos are moving quickly half an hour before match time. Roughly half of the crowd is drinking but the mood is calm, especially compared to Zum Schneider, a German bar two blocks to the south, where people are spilling onto the street and yelling at the pre-game coverage as we walk past.
A family is posted up in the second of Esperanto’s two large dining rooms, two of them in Croatia jerseys. When I ask Modrić where he’s from, he says “Mexico!” I ask him why Croatia? “Fuck France!” he says.
When France’s Antoine Greizmann scores off Mario Mandzukic’s head—the first ever own goal in a World Cup final—the crowd is quiet, except for the small cohort who are rooting for France because their souls are damp with evil.
Telemundo is great for Cup matches because Andrés Cantor hollers “gooooooooal” and says “Croacia” and “cabeza” instead of “Croatia” and “head.” For some reason, he says “goooooal” four times for France and only twice for Croatia, which is the only unappealing thing he does.
The woman next to us is draining mojitos and yelling at the wait staff for blocking her view. I am unhappy to report that she is rooting for Croatia. Her loss is our only victory.
11 AM. Agri Ismaïl. New York City, New York, USA
It’s become a tradition for me to watch the World Cup in a different country than the one I live in. In 2010 I was in Kuala Lumpur for work, and since a cousin and his girlfriend were there for a wedding, so we asked a taxi driver at 4am to “take us to the football.” The game was the dismal Spain – Germany semifinal, one of the multitude of endless games where Spain would win 1-0 in the most uninspired manner possible. But the taxi driver took us to a massive outdoor brothel, where over a hundred sex workers were supporting Spain; when the three of us voiced our (muted) support of Germany, it angered the women there, who told us we had to leave unless we supported Spain.
For the 2014 final, I had a business meeting in Dubai the following day, so I had to fly in the day of the match. That would have been fine had the flight not been delayed, and had the line at Dubai immigration not lasted longer than Wagner’s Ring Cycle. (Alas, it was and it did.) When I was finally in a cab to the hotel, the taxi driver refused to switch the radio station from the looping recording of the Quran he had on so I had to deplete my phone battery refreshing the score; I checked into the hotel just in time to see Götze’s overtime goal.
This year, after following Sweden’s scrappy, unthinkable run to the quarter finals from our home in Stockholm, my wife and I flew in to New York for the release of the book she’s written. We watched the semi-finals in rowdy Irish bars in midtown, but for the final, we needed to find a place that wasn’t as likely to have loud drunk people spill their beer on us; we were seeing it with my in-laws–in town for the aforementioned event–and they were less likely to enjoy having beer spilled on them.
We also wanted to avoid a place with too many French people, since we’ve been supporting Croatia ever since Sweden got eliminated. I have never liked the French team, even though I lived there during my high school years when they beat Brazil in 1998. There’s probably a psychological element to it. But for now, Croatia is the underdog and as a Kurd I’m predisposed to root for the underdog. To have to listen to French people sing La Marseillaise and bellow Allez les Bleus is unbearable at the best of times, let alone for the final.
But all New York’s Croatian bars are located in Astoria, too far for my in laws who have a plane to catch, so we found an overpriced tourist-frequented restaurant near Grand Central Station and so here we are, drinking beer at 11am, eating the fried chicken parts we have been subsisting on this entire World Cup, sitting next to a large Croatian family screaming at the screens as it becomes more and more clear France is going to get away with this. The atmosphere is growing more raucous as the goals are stacking up, drowning out the inane commentary. We order more food, where I try Mac and Cheese balls, which I have decided is America’s greatest contribution to humanity.
One thing about World Cup finals is that they’re usually not very fun to watch. The last two have ended 1-0, and you have to go back to 1986 for a final with more than 3 goals scored. But here we are, France 4-2 up against Croatia, with 10 minutes left. My in laws, not usually football watchers, slightly bemused, have their necks tilted towards the screen. The Croatian family, increasingly dejected, are sitting with their hands in their heads. 9 minutes.
There’s still time.