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Fans Root Hard, Party Harder at Soccer-Watching Outposts

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Four years after the Rose Bowl played host to the World Cup finals, Los Angeles got a small taste of soccer mania Sunday as avid fans gathered at sports bars and restaurants to watch the final game of France ’98.

At Rive Gauche Cafe on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, manager Francois Gillman broke out the champagne to celebrate France’s 3-0 victory over Brazil.

“It’s just beautiful,” he said. “We beat the champion--we taught Brazil how to dance.”

In Echo Park, at a French restaurant, a crowd of about 100 French fans leaped and cheered in jubilation when their underdog team won. The victory earned France its first-ever World Cup title.

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And Cecile Maurel was deeply moved, but subdued, not wanting to gloat: Her husband, Marcello, a Brazilian, was slumped in his seat at the Taix French Restaurant fighting back tears.

“I feel like crying,” Marcello said. “I’m trying to keep it away, keep it inside.”

Rive Gauche had a friendly rivalry going between employees in the kitchen cheering for Brazil and waiters--most of whom favored France.

“My girlfriend is Brazilian,” said Eric Plumpton, a waiter who was cheering for Brazil. After France’s victory he gave credit to that team. “It’s time for a change.”

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Meanwhile, in Zabumba, a Westside watering hole for expatriate Brazilians, the fans were much less gloomy--even though Brazil lost. Actually, from the action going on in front of the restaurant after the game, it was hard to tell who had won.

“Brazilians like to party,” said a semi-dejected Elizabeth Aldrete, co-owner of the restaurant, which traditionally hosts sizable crowds at soccer events. “They say ‘Hmm! We lost. It doesn’t matter.’ ”

“We are still tetracampeao,” said Aldrete, using the Portuguese phrase to take pride in Brazil’s record as the only country to have four world titles.

As Aldrete spoke, throngs of fans took to the streets. They gathered around samba drummers and then broke into an impromptu carnival on Venice Boulevard.

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As a precaution, police earlier had closed a section of the boulevard between Midvale and Overland avenues.

As the Brazilian fans danced, waved flags and chanted, police formed blockades and quickly moved to disperse the crowd.

Undaunted by the police presence, the revelers moved to the sidewalks, where they continued to party for a couple more hours. No arrests or injuries were reported.

At one point, a caravan of French fans drove by waving blue, white and red flags and honking their horns. The caravan drew jeers and some obscene gestures from the Brazilians--but no more.

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If Brazilians partied for nothing more than just an excuse to samba, the French reveled in the sweet sensation of victory.

After the game, Bernard Inchauspe, the 63-year-old head waiter at Taix French Restaurant, celebrated with gusto.

He grabbed a cardboard cut-out of the Eiffel Tower and held it above his head with both hands. Then he started to shake his hips, like a boyish rock star.

A conga line of jubilant French fans formed behind him, and together they snaked through the crowd--including the 50 Brazilian fans who slumped on their seats like sandbags.

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The day had begun with hope on both sides.

The crowd had gathered early at Zabumba. By 10 a.m., with the game still two hours away, the restaurant--with a capacity of about 100--was standing room only.

Inside, the hot air was made thick by the smell of beer and the sound of drum beats. Most fans predicted swift victory by the Brazilian squad, the favorites.

“3-1, Brazil,” a confident Junior Azzi, 31, a native of Sao Paulo and Sunday’s doorman at Zabumba, predicted for a final score. “The biggest pride we have is soccer.”

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At Rive Gauche in Sherman Oaks, waiters, some of them Frenchmen, along with manager Gillman caught snatches of the game in the restaurant bar before rushing back to serve food and drinks.

“I kept telling my customers, ‘I’m sorry I’m not myself today,” said Benoit Scalis, a waiter who came from France just two years ago. “They were very supportive.”

Inside the bar, Gillman--the leading enthusiast of a group of fans cheering for France--sat down, stood up, paced and rubbed his hands as he watched the game.

“Oh, my goodness,” he said worriedly in the first half when a Brazilian player seemed poised to score a goal. France’s goalie made one of several heroic stops in the game.

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Gillman walked in and out of the bar, handling other restaurant business and missing the two goals scored by France.

“I missed it,” he complained. “Can you believe that?”

By the end of the half he and others were preparing for a victory.

“They’re going to win,” said James Vail, a soccer fan who works promoting soccer events. Noting that France’s star player had been disqualified during an earlier game, Vail said, “Passion can overcome skill.”

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At Zabumba’s, the crowd was preparing for defeat: Noisy fans with faces painted green-and-yellow, to match the Brazilians jerseys, grew somber after the French scored two goals.

Toward the end of the game, as the Spanish-speaking announcer described the hushed silence of Brazilian fans in Paris, he could have been talking about the crowd at Zabumba. Nevertheless, the party picked up again after the game.

In contrast, at Taix, the energy was high throughout. The atmosphere was enough to nearly knock some people off their feet.

Waitress Carol Luat was taking orders when Brazil nearly scored on a first-half corner kick. The sudden roar at the table rocked her on her heels.

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“I thought I was going to lose my mind during the NBA playoffs, but this game definitely tops that,” Luat said.


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