The thrill of victory meets agony of defeat 

“Come on!” Ann Keller yelled, gasping as she watched players from two European nations with which she had no personal connection, play a game of soccer that she hadn’t cared about in May.

The Netherlands’ World Cup soccer team was weathering a third-consecutive attack on its goal during the first half of overtime in Sunday’s dramatic final.

After 101 minutes, neither the Dutch team — which Keller was rooting for because “they were really strong throughout the World Cup” — nor their Spanish opponents had scored a goal.

“Come on!” the Outer Richmond district resident said, grasping her face.

The early-afternoon crowd that pressed against Keller in the Abbey Tavern froze momentarily, reeking of sweat and beer, as a deflected strike by Spaniard Jesus Navas shot past Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.

“Yes!” Keller said as the crowd realized that the ball had missed its target and lodged on the wrong side of a goal’s net, thousands of miles away in Johannesburg.

Keller was clutched nervously by friend LaToya Tool — who chose to root for Spain — during the final minutes of the game.

About 16 minutes later, the tavern crowd unleashed a guttural roar when Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta blasted a winning strike past Stekelenburg, giving Spain its first World Cup title with a 1-0 victory.

Similar scenes played out simultaneously at Civic Center and in bars, public squares and other gathering places worldwide as soccer’s popularity hit a peak that’s only experienced once every four years.

Both 22-year-old women said they had not watched soccer before the 2010 World Cup.

But after following much of the four-week tournament, they said they plan to continue watching the sport, which has long been played by American youth but is just starting to develop a national following.

“A lot of people say it’s boring because there aren’t a lot of goals,” Tool said. “It’s not the goals that are made but the effort behind them that’s so exciting.”

Within 10 minutes of Iniesta’s historic strike, tavern-goers were squinting as they filed out of the dark and balmy bar and into the cool Inner Richmond district fog, blending into celebratory crowds that spilled out of neighboring Geary Boulevard pubs.

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John Upton

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Sunday, Jan 25, 2015

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