By Alessia Palanti Special to Published Jun 15, 2010 at 6:24 PM

After a night of tossing and turning, of merciless humidity permeating the bed sheets and of the red glare of the alarm clock knocking at my eyelids every half hour, finally it's here.

Walking into the Highbury at 7:30 on the morning of the ever-so-awaited June 11th start of the World Cup, patrons were already occupying seats at the bar, sipping at their coffees and reserving their spots before a crowd started forming, ready to witness the first match: South Africa vs. Mexico.

The commencement ceremony in South Africa began -- songs, dances, and camera shots of the participating teams and fans -- displayed on the multitude of flat-screen TVs at the pub. The pre-game show, and the inauguration of this football odyssey, has always been exciting, but you forget just how moving it actually is. The sad absence of Nelson Mandela balanced by the excitement of the national anthems being sung, finally followed by the crisp first kick of the ball are capable of giving you goose bumps, which did happen to me. How incredible for each of these teams to be dancing on the world's stage.

Appropriately, the host country South Africa autographed the first goal of the tournament in the 55th minute, against a very persistent and resilient Mexican side that dominated a majority of the game. An incredibly deft left-footed shot made its way into the back of the opposing net -- pungent and precise. Mexico came back with a goal 22 minutes later that ended up tying the match. Though the Mexican fans surely outnumbered the South African fans at the bar, it was impossible not to smile and exult at that first goal.

But Saturday was the day of days. It started with a strong pair -- Argentina vs. Nigeria -- generating incredible excitement as fans rose early to catch this 6 a.m. pairing. And this game was the first one to produce a winner -- Argentina -- gaining three points and putting them on top of their group. The most awaited game had yet to begin.

Nearly 60 years to the day after their last encounter -- a 1-0 United States victory on the rough grounds of Brazil -- the Americans meet the English. In many ways, this was the biggest game in soccer history for the United States. Although the Yanks' victory in 1950 has always been considered one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history (a result British newspapers assumed was a misprint and printed the score as 10-1 for the Brits), Saturday's game was a meeting of football kings trying to quell the restless football usurpers. Viewer ratings were sky high, and coverage and advertising were endless.

I was scheduled to work at the Highbury Pub during this game, and was perfectly aware that it was going to be a very, very busy day. I got to the pub around 10:30 a.m. to check out the scene, and help set up for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff. The front door was not an option; the bar was already at capacity. People began reserving their spots on the floor or a, front row seat at the counter as early as 5:45 a.m. I went through the back where the tent was set up -- an outdoor living room if you will, including a wide LCD screen, a beer truck, and a crepe stand set up by Satellite Crepes, who satisfied the hunger of all diehard fans or first-timers with delicious home-made crepes.

Several bartenders were working, with much staff support on the side. Never have I witnessed so much football-related preparation in States. There were small US flags placed into empty bottles, larger flags pinned on the walls, a regular patron dressed as Captain America himself, and some fans with the stars and strips painted onto their faces. Kits and jerseys with the red, white, and blue flourished throughout the grounds creating a surrealistic scene rarely before seen on these shores.

Quickly, while the vuvuzelas flitting about the bar were trumpeting the love song of bees, England tallied only 4 minutes in -- disappointing the crowd, but not dispiriting it. A few England fans rejoiced, though highly outnumbered by the fervent American crowd. Encouraging chants filled the air, and enthusiastic defiance of England's early strike served as informative commentary. When Robert Green fumbled Clint Dempsey's tepid strike, the pub nearly shook loose of its foundation, as the crowd jumped spastically and challenged their vocal chords to strident screams of joy.

A second half of queries from both sides were neatly answered by both goalkeepers -- especially by the U.S.'s Tim Howard, and the game ended in a well-deserved 1-1 draw. The result may have been somewhat surprising although the United States is the 14th-ranked team in the world (England is currently ranked third). For the American side, it was clearly a victory. After all, the States gained a point, but more importantly kept the Three Lions from gaining three points. As the New York Post's headline wittingly proclaimed: "US wins 1-1 against England." It was a rare, unforgettable day.


Alessia Palanti Special to
Alessia is a freelance writer from Florence, Italy. She has lived in Milwaukee for almost two years, with frequent visits back to her hometown.

She received a BA from Beloit College, where she developed as a modern dance choreographer. She has worked in the arts administration world in Chicago and has interned at The Repertory Theater in Milwaukee.

The performing arts -- film, theater and music -- are her passion, and she believes that the stage is not limited to scripted, but rather expands even the length of the soccer field.

She works part-time at the Highbury Pub in Bay View, which inspires her to share her cross-cultural experiences and her ideas on "the beautiful game."