Local fans on edge, but see Americans pull through to next round

The Fresno BeeJune 12, 2014 

The mood inside Peeve's Public House was tense, just like in so many other spots across the country where soccer fans gathered to watch the United States' final group match against powerful Germany in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

But about 10 minutes before the end of the game Thursday, U.S. fans had good reason to celebrate.

Portugal scored to take a one-goal lead over Ghana, meaning the United States, which was on its way to losing to Germany 1-0, would move on to the knockout round in consecutive World Cups for the first time.

It was not the most dramatic advancement, but it did not matter.

"I'm thrilled!" said a stars-and-stripes clad Melissa Halsey of Fresno, among a group of more than 100 at Peeve's. "We survived the 'Group of Death.' We believed in this team, and they proved us right."

The World Cup started with 32 teams aiming to make the cut to 16 after group play. Most agreed that the four in the "Group of Death" had the most difficult path because of their high FIFA rankings (No. 2 Germany, No. 4 Portugal, No. 13 United States and No. 37 Ghana), and round-robin group play bore that out -- all four had a chance to reach the Round of 16 when Thursday's matches began.

The U.S. needed to beat or tie Germany to advance, while an American loss coupled with an unfavorable Ghana-Portugal result could send the U.S. packing, aced out of one of the group's two berths in the knockout round.

The final two games Thursday were played simultaneous, so it was easy to watch the drama unfold. While the United States and Germany played a scoreless first half, Portugal went up 1-0 on an own goal, scored by a Ghanian defender.

That was good for U.S. fans.

But 10 minutes into the second half, Thomas Mueller nailed a shot past goalkeeper Tim Howard for a 1-0 German lead in Recife.

Not so good.

Just minutes after that, Ghana scored 1,200 miles away in Brasilia to pull even with Portugal.

That was downright scary for the Americans.

Another Ghanian goal would have put the United States in a tight spot.

With the pressure mounting, fans back at Peeve's, where the U.S. match was shown on two screens, began a constant check of their smartphones and tablets for updates from Brasilia. (ESPN tweeted that its online streaming application set a record with 1.4 million users during the first half, leading to limited issues the company blamed on "unprecedented demand.")

The tension was palpable for about 20 more minutes until Cristiano Ronaldo -- the same man whose assist on a 95th-minute goal Sunday denied the United States a victory -- gave the Americans the news they wanted: a goal against Ghana to put Portugal back in front.

And 10 minutes after that, chants of "We are staying in Brazil!" and "U-S-A, U-S-A!" spilled out onto the Fulton Mall from fans who crammed into Peeve's to watch the 9 a.m. PDT match, many opting to go to work late or skip their shifts entirely to find out the Americans' fate.

It was a scene played out across the nation at official watch parties in places like Chicago's Grant Park, Washington's Dupont Circle and Boston's City Hall Plaza -- even President Obama watched the match on Air Force One on his way to Minnesota.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann did his part, posting an online note for people to give to their bosses that asked managers to excuse staff to watch the game for the good of the nation.

"By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well. Go USA!" he wrote.

The go-ahead goal by Ronaldo even made some fans at Peeve's thank the European team with chants of "Portugal, Portugal!"

Next up for the United States and its fans: a match against Belgium at 1 p.m. PDT Tuesday in Salvador.

"It's pretty much what I expected," Fresno fan Dustin Lowery said. "The Germans made it a little scary, but we played well enough to hold on through to the next round. We made it out of the Group of Death and that's what matters."

Places in Fresno that are showing the games

Peeve's Public House

Where: 1243 Fulton Mall, Fresno, 93721

Phone: (559) 573-5735

Peeve's is the World Cup headquarters for the Fresno chapter of the American Outlaws. Owner Craig Scharton said the pub will open at 8 a.m. for 9 a.m. games, and will also be open Sundays for Cup games.

Fat Boys Taqueria

Where: 3045 W. Bullard Ave., Fresno, 93711

Phone: (559) 435-7600

For El Tri fans looking for a World Cup headquarters, Fat Boys is the place. With 16 TVs and decorations already draping the walls, owner Jaime Beltran is excited for the tournament. Beltran, of Jalisco, Mexico, said the restaurant won't miss a beat of the World Cup and plans to show all 64 games, including opening at 8 a.m. for 9 a.m. kickoffs

The Mad Duck

Where: 765 W. Herndon Ave., Clovis, 93612

Phone: (559) 298-3825

Bar manager Dustin Llanes said the Mad Duck will open early for patrons at 8 a.m. on game days with 9 a.m. kickoffs (normal hours are 11 a.m. to midnight). The bar features a dozen TVs and has become a staple to watch games for USA and Mexico fans alike

Michelangelo's Pizzeria and Restaurant

Where: 619 Woodworth Ave., Clovis, 93612

Phone: (559) 322-1666

With walls covered from top to bottom with jerseys, flags and team photos from previous World Cups, the Old Town Clovis soccer bar will show nearly every game, manager Diego Rosales said. Michelangelo's will show every game Monday through Saturday and open early at 8 a.m. for 9 a.m. kickoffs. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Samba Global Cuisine

Where: 760 W. Shaw Ave., No. 107, Fresno

Phone: (559) 447-1122

The former Brazilian steakhouse that recently made the switch to international cuisine is ready for the World Cup, manager Jay Ghazal said. The restaurant and bar at the Fig Garden Shopping Center has flags from all 32 World Cup teams draping the walls, and Ghazal added that the restaurant's employees and customers have caught "soccer fever." Samba will open an hour before kickoff for morning matches during the first 19 days of the World Cup (the group stage). The restaurant will offer brunch and lunch buffets for World Cup fans in the morning, and happy hour and bar specials in the afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at amoreno@fresnobee.com, (559) 441-6401 or @anhelllll on Twitter.

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