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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

The World Cup arrives in time for Thanksgiving

It is the weekend before Thanksgiving, which means time for cutting turkey, mashing potatoes, putting up Christmas decorations and watching football.

Real football.

This year the World Cup kicks off just as this column is hitting computer screens on Sunday and will be in full swing by Monday. It is the start to a glorious month that will culminate a week before Christmas.

Let’s be honest, who really wants to watch the Buffalo Bills thrash the Detroit Lions, our country’s perpetual Thanksgiving whipping-boys, when Brazil will be playing a stacked Serbia? That is the biggest match in the Group of Death — what other tourney offers such vivid descriptors?!? — and could set the tone for the tournament. Brazil is favored by bookies to win the whole thing while Serbia is my dark horse to take the trophy.

Of course, since the Bills-Lions kickoff at 10:30 a.m. MT, while Brazil-Serbia starts at noon, the first game may effectively be over in time to watch the second.

The U.S. Men’s National Team will play its first match at noon on Monday against Wales. Given that the U.S. is in a group with Wales and England (as well as Iran), there will be historical bragging rights at stake.

USA-England will go head-to-head at noon on Black Friday. Perfect timing. I will watch from the British Bulldog, my beloved soccer bar, exactly the same place I was 12 years ago when the same teams met and the USMNT delivered a shocking 1-1 draw when Clint Dempsey scored on a howler let in by Robert Green.

Of course, it is more than just the game. It is the people and the joy and the community.

In 2010 I showed up with a friend about six hours early for USA-England. The streets were closed off around the Bulldog and we saw a circle of England supporters juggling a ball outside. We obviously did what any good American supporter would and swiped the ball. That led to a two-hour long street-soccer match; England supporters versus USA fans.

By the time we were done, the entire makeshift pitch was lined with people cheering on the entrants and substituting in for their side. The ball was officially “out” if it hit someone along the side. Goals were marked by bags laid on the street. Hydration came in the form of slippery plastic cups filled with beer. Songs and chants rose in waves around the players, as heated in their competition as the actual game itself.

It was the most glorious match I have ever played in.

The first-ever November World Cup obviously makes a repeat unlikely, especially because the roads will not be closed. But the crowds and the songs will still be plentiful.

Even in the sardine-can-sized Bulldog, the packed crowd will beat any trying to swarm shops across the city. Give me a pint and a ploughman’s breakfast and Qatar-Senegal over that retail madness every time.

And if you can’t get into the Bulldog, there will be shuttles to the Icehouse for viewing, and plenty of over-packed watch parties across the metro area over the next month. You could almost visit a different bar for each country entered in the tournament. The variation in the cheers and chants may be different, and God help you if you wear the wrong kit (jersey) into the wrong bar, but the atmosphere is usually the same.

Soccer fans are the warmest, most welcoming fans in all sports. They are loud and boisterous and like to argue (usually in good nature). They will eat and drink and be merry. They will stay glued to television sets, celebrate triumphs together and cry on one another’s shoulders over losses.

They might even finally break Twitter. For real.

The World Cup will basically be like a bunch of families getting together. And isn’t that exactly what the holiday season is supposed to be about? So, this Thanksgiving, join a new family or two to watch the world’s game with us.

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