Pittsburgh fans cheer on German, Argentinian soccer teams

On Sunday, Matthias Schwab longed for home.

There, he imagined, the sound of honking cars filled the air. The streets were festooned with black, red and gold, he wagered, and fans were hoarse from shouting "Deutschland, oh-ho."

But Mr. Schwab, 25, didn't miss out on national revelry altogether. Transplanted from Munich to Pittsburgh to work on his master's thesis in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, he sat on the edge of his pub stool in the Hofbrauhaus, the old-style German beer hall on the South Side, and watched the German national soccer team clinch the world championship with a 1-0 overtime victory against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro.

"I wish to be in Germany right now," Mr. Schwab said as he left the Hofbrauhaus, which had to turn away fans due to overcapacity. "I bet they are going crazy."

It is Germany's fourth World Cup title, secured after 113 goal-less minutes against Argentina. Substitute midfielder Mario Goetze broke the stalemate with a volley kick from short range, eliciting roaring cheers from inside the Hofbrauhaus and across the street at Claddagh Irish Pub, which did a similarly brisk business during the World Cup final.

Germany's team play and precision passing won them the game, said Alex Cheung, 22, of Irwin. Unlike Argentina's squad -- whose rallying cry is the skill of its captain, Lionel Messi -- Germany didn't rely on a single star, he added.

The example of Mr. Messi is what inspired Alex Ahwari, 11, to split with his family, all Germany fans, and root for Argentina. "Young players see Messi and that's it for them," said his father, David Ahwari, who had come with his family from Chicago to Pittsburgh to visit his brother-in-law, who is of German descent.

Alex would have been in better company across town at Patron Mexican Grill in East Liberty, where a throng of Argentina fans had gathered under a single banner: "Keep the World Cup in South America," as Monica Ranii described their sentiment.

Ms. Ranii, 55, is a chef and owner of La Mendocina, an Argentine catering company she adapted from the restaurant her father founded in 1984 when he came to Pittsburgh from Mendoza, Argentina. Now Ms. Ranii leads a local collective of about 174 Argentine-Americans who gather periodically for national holidays, always involving their favorite mate tea.

Sunday at Patron, over beer and chips, fans shouted for the Argentine team, banging cow bells and singing Argentine sporting anthems. Ms. Ranii scanned the restaurant for friends from Puerto Rico and Guatemala -- emphasizing the group's support for Latin American teams at large. If Brazil had made it to the final instead of Argentina, she said she would have proudly donned a jersey for the neighboring country.

"Soccer is our passion," she said. Her sister, Jackie Uhler, was there with her German-American husband, Jason Uhler, who wore blue and white for Argentina. Mr. Uhler, 43, said he had watched previous games at the Hofbrauhaus, but now that Germany and Argentina were going head-to-head, he traded in national loyalty for marital loyalty.

For some at Patron, soccer is not just entertainment but their life's work. Sebastian Martinez, who emigrated from Cordoba, Argentina, less than a decade ago, said he has been waiting 24 years to see his team in the final. The last time Argentina made it this far -- a 1-0 loss in 1990 to West Germany -- Mr. Martinez was 11 years old. He now works as a personal soccer trainer and runs a sporting goods store in Bridgeville. Of his personal investment in the final, he said, "my heart is going to come out of my body."

He doesn't want his students to approach the game with as much intensity, Mr. Martinez said. He hopes they appreciate the fun, spirited side of soccer, he said, the side he experienced growing up in Argentina.

As a street sport, soccer was an expression of cultural identity, a sense that Mr. Martinez and Ms. Ranii are trying to recreate in Pittsburgh.

That feeling was as strong at the Hofbrauhaus, where German fans had flocked from Chicago, Cleveland and, coincidentally, Munich.

Brett and Lauren Zenobi drove 130 miles from Cleveland to watch the game in a venue modeled on the type of social space where, decades ago, their ancestors gathered for different sorts of community attractions.

Isaac Stanley-Becker: istanley-becker@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3775. On Twitter: @isb_isaac.

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