Sandeep Rao watched this year's World Cup matches in a raucous stadium in Cape Town, late at night in front of a relative's television set in India and on Sunday on a grassy park at the Inner Harbor.
"This is actually what they do in South Africa," said the 32-year-old, gesturing at the families sprawled on blankets and young couples sipping beer in front of an oversized screen. "If you don't have a ticket, you watch it in a place like this. In Cape Town there was a waterfront TV set up just like this."
The festival, which was sponsored by the Waterfront Partnership, ASG Sports and others, drew more than 100 soccer fans with ties from around the world. Fans of the Spanish team streaked red and yellow stripes across their cheeks and those rooting for the Netherlands wore bright orange. Children kicked balls in an inflatable soccer field while their parents browsed racks of colorful jerseys.
Two young soccer players — Gabriela Vesona, 12, and Sophia Vesona, 10 — explained the intricacies of the game to their mother, Shana Germani, while baby brother Caydin Germani, 1, tapped a ball between his chubby feet.
"He can't walk yet, but he can kick," Germani said. "We're expecting him to be a soccer player one day."
Nearby, Bobby West of Pikesville and Thomas Bosley of Cockeysville, both 23, frowned at the screen as the score hovered at zero to zero almost two hours into the match.
"It's not about the scoring," said West, explaining the game's appeal. "You pay attention to the small things, the first touch. There's that one move that takes an ordinary play and breaks into a scoring play."
Rao, who moved to Baltimore last week for a radiology fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, stumbled upon the waterfront festival while searching for a place to watch the game in his new city. Wearing an orange jersey, sunglasses and flip-flops, he appeared to be the only fan with a vuvuzela — the traditional South African horn that has created a buzz, quite literally, at this year's games.
The slender blue horn, which Rao bought for about $2 in the outskirts of Cape Town, was adorned with the red, white and blue flag of the Netherlands.
The streets of South Africa were packed with rowdy fans tooting vuvuzelas, a sharp contrast to India where most watched the matches at home with their families, he said.
One youthful fan was watching the match far from home. Alberto Fabra,15, of Spain, is spending the summer in Catherine and Jon Wikstrom's Towson home.
Catherine Wikstrom, who has been friends with Alberto's family since she stayed with them for an exchange program decades ago, shot into the air shaking a Spanish flag when the team scored the winning goal.
Alberto, the red and yellow paint on his face streaked with sweat, hurried to call his family at home. The victory — the first in Spain's history — made him so emotional that, " I can't even express myself in Spanish," he said.
The Wikstrom's 12-year-old son, Jackson, had a more pragmatic take on the win. "It's like a miracle," he said. "Now I feel like I haven't wasted hours of my life watching this game."
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