‘Forza Azzurri’ supporters live it up in North Beach

Amateur percussionist Alfredo Colle had a pretty simple job Friday afternoon at Panta Rei.

“When the people are happy,” said the Naples native, pointing at his snare set up in the corner, “I beat the drum.”

This simple rule created an almost constant soundtrack for Italy’s quarterfinal match against the Ukraine, as a crowd of more than 400 Azzurri supporters filled the interior and spilled onto the sidewalk surrounding this North Beach bar and restaurant. Handheld horns, shouting and applause completed the chorus, with the revelry drawing amazed expressions from those passing by.

“We try to bring a little of Italy with us here for the games,” said Alessandro Iacobelli, a Rome native who has lived in the Bay Area for 11 years. “The drums, the trumpets and the crowd.”

In truth, everyone in North Beach was aware of the match, whether they cared or not. Every eatery up and down Columbus Street had a TV tuned to the game, with a vocal reaction following seemingly every pass, shot or foul. It all climaxed at Panta Rei, where diehard Italian fans mixed with those who were just walking past and got caught up in the moment.

“If I have to watch outside of Italy, this is one of the best places to be,” Giusseppe Allasia of Turin said. “The people are very into it.”

In front, waiters wearing blue Italian T-shirts slalomed along the sidewalk to deliver Peroni beer to thirsty patrons standing on tiptoes to see the television, while the parking places surrounding Panta Rei were filled with Vespas, some adorned with Italian flags. Inside, supporters wrapped Forza Azzurri scarves around their Francesco Totti jerseys, and anyone headed to the bar was immediately besieged with additional orders.

The Italians took an early lead in the fifth minute, and put the game away in the second half on two Luca Toni goals to win 3-0. A couple of moments after each score, Colle went Forte Forte on the drums and held his horn until the screaming crowd stood and gave another ovation.

“We love Panta Rei,” Iacobelli said. “This is incredible.”

melliser@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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