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World Cup: 32 nations, 32 stories

| Sunday, June 6, 2010

Oscar Diaz, a native of Mexico who lives in Oakland, is so passionate about soccer that he will take the day off from his job as a college financial-aid adviser to watch the World Cup openers on Friday.

Uwe Stender, a native of Germany who serves as Sewickley Academy's soccer coach, says he will see every World Cup game and just might catch a plane to South Africa to watch in person if Germany gets off to a good start.

Joe Prince-Wright, meanwhile, is planning an entire summer of soccer. The Pitt soccer player is traveling to his native England, where he will work on the BBC's World Cup broadcasts.

Everywhere, it seems, Pittsburghers have World Cup fever.

But we wanted to do more than just talk to a few soccer fans in the the 'Burgh. Our challenge was much more daunting: Find at least one local soccer fan from each country competing in this year's World Cup and ask them about the impact the event has had on their lives.

Here are their stories:


Farid Zerfa, 31

Business-solutions analyst


If you run into Zerfa on June 23, do not give him the score of the U.S./Algeria game. He must be at work at Eat 'N Park, but he'll have the game on DVR at home. "I am going to pretend like it's a live game," said Zerfa, a former club-team member at IUP who will be rooting for Algeria in its first World Cup appearance since 1986. "I will not be torn. I am sorry."


Paul Mazzotta, 54

Owner of Pizza Paul's


As a local college student in the mid-1970s, Mazzotta, a Buenos Aires native, was working construction over the summer and told his boss he needed to leave early. "Argentina was playing Nigeria in the World Cup at 1," Mazzotta said. "He must have thought I was joking. I left at 12:30. I got fired the next day." Now, Pittsburgh is home for Mazzotta, who isn't bashful about rooting for his homeland in the World Cup. "That's my team," he said. "That's my blood."


Matt Grubba, 27

Sports editor, Sewickley Herald

South Side

Grubba was born in Sydney, moved to the U.S. as a toddler and became an all-district player at Rustburg (Va.) High. Prior to the 2006 tournament, Grubba said he pulled "an all-nighter" to watch a qualifying game against Uruguay that began at 4 a.m. here. Australia won on penalty kicks, and Grubba called his father John, who was getting up for work in Virginia, "to give him the running commentary."


Rodrigo Peggau, 21

Duquesne University men's basketball player


When Brazil wins games in this year's Cup, Peggau and a friend have a plan. "We're going to get in our convertible and have a parade," he said. "I've got the makeup ready to put on my face." He said that the Brazilian national jersey includes a motto: "Born to be a soccer player."


Alain Tamo, 37

President, Cameroon Community of Pittsburgh

Penn Hills

Tamo's fondest World Cup memory was 20 years ago, when Cameroon became the first African country to reach the quarterfinals. After missing the field in 2006, the Indomitable Lions are back. Tamo, who moved to America 11 years ago, said soccer remains a national point of pride in his home country. "The same way Idaho thinks about potatoes, Cameroon thinks about (soccer)."


Carola Benincasa, 44

Stay-at-home mom

Mt. Lebanon

Born in Chile before moving to the U.S. when she was 5, Benincasa, who was a cheerleader for her middle-school soccer team, has 23 cousins and several brothers, nieces and nephews who are "always kicking the ball around and bouncing it on their heads."


Thomas Bojsen, 54

Owner of Great Dane Real Estate Co.


Bojsen has lived in the U.S. since the 1980s, bringing his passion for soccer with him. He plays for the Elizabeth Forward team in an over-40 league. "I think I'm pretty good," he said. He plans to watch the World Cup, even if a possible U.S./Denmark matchup makes him nervous. "I think I'd root for a tie," he said.


Joe Prince-Wright, 21

Pitt men's soccer midfielder


Prince-Wright was among 170,000 Englishmen who were in Stuttgart, Germany in the 2006 World Cup. They saw David Beckham score his last goal for England in a 1-0 victory over Ecuador. "It was a sea of red and white," Prince-Wright said of England's colors. "The whole city was transformed. People were dancing in the streets."


Laurie Ajavon, 24

IUP long jumper


France won the World Cup in 1998, setting off wild celebrations that caught the attention of a 12-year French girl from Saint Ouen. But there were few opportunities at the time for girls to play soccer. Ajavon, whose father is a soccer coach, turned to track and field, where she finished 10th in the long jump last month at the NCAA Division II championships. She is back home this summer where she plans to "do track meets and watch some soccer."


Uwe Stender, 48

Sewickley Academy soccer coach


Stender, who spent two weeks in Germany when it hosted the World Cup in 2006, will have a hard time staying away this year. "If Germany beats Australia convincingly (in the opener), you might find me on a plane," he said, noting World Cup excitement is a "million times" more intense than the Super Bowl in the U.S. If he doesn't go to South Africa, Stender said he will watch every game on TV. "And the ones I can't watch, I will tape."


Dr. Joseph Adjaye, 70

Director of African Studies, Pitt

Stanton Heights

Dr. Adjaye played soccer in his native country and now beams with pride at Ghana's feats, including four Africa Cup titles and a FIFA under-20 world championship. He plans to see the World Cup, even while traveling in Ghana and Tanzania. "It is not something you want to miss," he said.


Achilles Vassillicos, 65

Penn-Trafford girls soccer coach

Squirrel Hill

Vassillicos started playing "as soon as I could walk," and he still plays today. When he was a child in Greece, he said he played at every opportunity. "We used any object that could roll on a concrete floor, a little rock, a lemon, an orange. It's the beautiful game as it is called around the world. Once you master the control of your body and the ball, you end up creating something beautiful."


Henri Adila, 22


North Hills

Honduras is making just its second appearance in the World Cup, but Adila is optimistic. "We're a little country, but we've got a lot of good players," he said. "I will be watching when we play Chile (in the first round). We think we have a team that can get to the second round."



Host of Radio Italia on WEDO 810-AM


Patitucci can vividly recall the glory and the pain of the World Cup. Four decades ago, he sat next to a shortwave radio and listened to Pele-led Brazil rout his beloved Italy, 4-1, in the 1970 finals. Four years ago, anguish turned to joy when Italy won the 2006 World Cup. Patitucci, an accomplished soccer player and coach, and his family were in Rome when Italy beat the host Germans in the semis and France in the finals. "It was beautiful to see," Patitucci said.


Lee Kouadio-Tobey, 22

Riverhounds striker

South Side

While recognizing the athletic skills necessary to become an accomplished soccer player, Kouadio-Tobey said there is much more involved in the sport. "It's mostly a brain game," he said. "Mostly, you use your head when you play. You have to know where to go when you get the soccer ball. Your brain should be tired when you finish a soccer game, not your legs."


Shintaro Harada, 29

Riverhounds midfielder


With a quarter-century worth of experience in the game, Harada still harbors hopes of representing Japan in the World Cup. When the tournament was held in Japan in 2002, he attended the Cameroon/Ireland game. "Tickets to see the Japanese team were impossible," he said.


Fabricio Ortiz, 33,

Owner of Italian Village Pizza restaurant


Ortiz, who lived one mile from Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, was fortunate enough to be there for one of the most exciting and controversial games of all time, a 2-1 Argentina victory against England in which Diego Maradona scored twice. The first goal became known as the "Hand of God," when Maradona scored on an unpenalized handball. "I saw it," said Ortiz, who was 9 at the time. "I don't know how the referee couldn't see it."


Bobby Vossmaer, 58

North Allegheny boys soccer coach


Vossmaer played professionally for 17 years in The Netherlands and the U.S., and only an Achilles injury kept him off the Dutch World Cup team in 1978. Now he watches from home. "I played in all those stadiums. I don't mind having the fridge right there and the big screen right in front of me."


Roger Parsons, 57

Valley News Dispatch district sales manager

Lower Burrell

Parsons said soccer is second only to rugby in popularity among sports in the tiny island nation of New Zealand, but it may increase now that the national team has qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1982. Parsons said he plans to watch his homeland team on TV -- he lived there until 1990 -- but he doesn't expect a championship. "When you consider the competition and the population of the country (4 million), it is a big effort just to make it," he said.


Talib Zanna, 19

Pitt basketball player


Zanna said soccer is so important in Nigeria that lives depend on it. "It's crazy," he said. "Some people die because of the way they love soccer. Some people want this team to win, and some people want another team to win, and they start fighting. I saw it in (in the streets of) Nigeria when I was young."


Dr. Young Rae Oum, 47

Korea-Japan Postdoctoral Fellow


North Korea does not encourage overseas travel, and passports are difficult to obtain. Oum, a professor at Pitt's Asian Studies Center and a South Korea native, said the two nations will be rooting for each other in the World Cup, the first in which both have qualified.


Louis Trapp, 30

Administrative assistant

Dallas, formerly of Oakland

Trapp ends his emails with the Spanish words: "Paraguay 2010, Somos Los Mejores!" (We are the best!). And he believes it. "We can shock the world," said Trapp, whose father encouraged him to play soccer. "He told me I should play once a day to keep my mind free," he said.


Toni Pais, 55

Owner of Cafe Zinho and Cafe Zao


Pais' favorite World Cup memory was made in 1966, when Portugal trailed North Korea by three goals early in the first half of a quarterfinal game. That's when Eusedio scored four goals and assisted on another to power Portugal to a 5-3 win. "That was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen," said Pais, who lived in Portugal at the time. "We had all thought it was over." The end for Portugal that year came in the semifinals, a 2-1 win by host England.


Vlatka Zgonc, 65

Radio-show host on WPIT


Zgonc said the World Cup is a "festive occasion" in Serbia. "The people pour in the streets after each game," she said. "They sound like an enormous choir making these noises through the streets. Pittsburgh (sports are) closest to the way I remember the sports fans (in Belgrade)."


Rudy Ondrejco, 58

Auto body mechanic/radio-show host


Ondrejco, whose brother still lives in Slovakia , said when the 2010 team from his native country reached the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, it transcended mere athletic competition. "They are a small country, and they are playing world wide," he said. "Hopefully, they represent the country well."


Vida Kosir, 59

Newspaper editor, Slovenian National Benefits Society (Prosveta)


Kosir has first-hand knowledge of her country's enthusiasm for the World Cup -- she returned a week ago from a visit. She said the Slovenian people are excited for their team's opener next Sunday against Algeria. "Everybody says when Slovenia plays, work will have to wait," she said. Her problem emerges June 18 when Slovenia plays the U.S. Asked which team will earn her allegiance, she said: "I don't know. The winner, I guess."


Allan Brown, 25

Sales associate


Brown, a former Robert Morris and Riverhounds player, was born in South Africa and lived there nearly half his life. Because of its since-abolished apartheid policy, South Africa was banned from international soccer competition until the 1998 World Cup in France. "It's very humbling," he said of the first World Cup on African soil. "But at the same time, you are very proud. South Africa has come a long way."


Lea Chon, 31



A self-proclaimed "huge" soccer fan, Chon never played the sport in her native South Korea, but she picked it up as a junior in high school and played on the team at Belle Vernon (Class of 1998). She will root for South Korea in the World Cup, at the risk of lots of "trash talk" from her U.S. friends. "Soccer is good for a lot of the smaller countries," she said. "You don't need a lot of equipment - just some sneakers and a ball, and you are good to go."


Miguel Lozano, 58

La Roche College women's soccer coach

Ross Township

Lozano played semi-pro soccer in his home country of Spain and just came back from Europe with his La Roche team. He said people in Spain and France were excited about the World Cup. "This is a great event that is played once every four years," he said. "Imagine if they held the Super Bowl once every four years."



Snowsports school director, Seven Springs


Growing up in a country where downhill skiing and snow sports are most popular, Fuchs always held a special place for soccer. Before moving to the U.S. in 1998, he played semi-pro soccer in Switzerland. When the Swiss reached the World Cup for only the third time since 1966, the Point Park product was ecstatic. "Having a country of seven million people make the World Cup is a great experience, especially for me," he said. "I grew up loving the sport."


Justin Evans, 33

Riverhounds coach


The first player drafted by the Riverhounds in 1999, Evans, a Peters Township High School graduate, played professionally for 10 years before he was named coach in January. The team has adjusted its schedule, moving the game at Harrisburg to Friday, so players can congregate Saturday at Claddagh Irish Pub on the South Side to watch the U.S./England game and greet fans. "It's the world's game," he said. "The world's No. 1 game."


Francisco Buxareo, 57

Employee at Mallorca Restaurant


Buxareo said he follows the Steelers, Penguins and other local teams but adds that those can't compare to the World Cup in terms of international interest. "The World Cup is big everywhere," he said. "You probably have 2 1/2 billion people watching it. Compare that to the Super Bowl, which is what• 200 million• That's a big difference."

Tribune-Review reporters John Grupp, Dave Mackall, Dan Miller and Walter Villa also contributed to this report.

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