Ken Garcia: Soccer fans will be intense from S.F. to Paris to Rome

Somewhere between Columbus Avenue and your favorite French bistro there will be shouts of joy and tears of agony tomorrow. The globe’s greatest sporting event will come to an end — though the partying will likely extend well into the work week.

Not that a lot of people have been working. I watched the United States-Ghana soccer game in a pub with about 100 people and by 8:30 a.m. at least half of them couldn’t have passed a field sobriety test. And judging by the headlines in Great Britain, England is still sporting a national hangover.

Drama,anguish, mystery, scandal, pure jubilation — this World Cup had it all — and all that was off the field. Whole nations came to a standstill during the past month as the tournament unfolded, and some are still reeling.

As much as I hope San Francisco can land the 2016 Summer Olympics, those games are a veritable snooze-fest in comparison. Will people fly halfway around the world and spend a fortune to watch the 400-meter hurdles? Not in full body paint.

In some countries, civil wars were halted. One African nation declared a national holiday to celebrate its team fortunes. Careers were made and broken. German coach Juergen Klinsmann, once ridiculed by his country for refusing to move full time away from his California home during World Cup preparations, is now a national hero. And Wayne Rooney, the bullish English striker, will be forever known as the guy who got kicked out of a critical game for kicking another player in the unmentionables and then saying he was “gob-smacked.”

Shaka Hislop, hardly a household name, not only made headlines for his magnificent play as the goalkeeper of Trinidad and Tobago, he actually landed a job with the Dallas team in Major League Soccer. Hislop is a lot closer to 40 than he is to 20, but he was just one more star that came out of retirement to help his country succeed in Germany.

There may not be crying in baseball, but there was plenty in the World Cup — and it was a welcome relief. David Beckham may be the most overhyped, oversexed and overpaid soccer player on the planet, but I will never forget the sight of him lying on the bench in tears because he could not finish his last game due to injury. Somehow the NBA Finals doesn’t stir the same kind of passion.

People who never even watched soccer got swept up in it. One of my neighbors, who couldn’t tell a soccer ball from a dodge ball three weeks ago, said she spent hours each day transfixed in front of the television. WhenItaly beat Germany in dramatic fashion in the semifinals of arguably the finest game in the World Cup, she tearfully called her Italian father, who was in full party mode at his San Rafael home.

Ah yes, Italy. Even as the Azzurri fans prepare for tomorrow’s final against France, the country is in the midst of a sports scandal so big, it would relegate Barry Bonds’ steroid story into a tiny back-page item. Italy is in the midst of a match-fixing trial so ugly that one newspaper referred to it as “football’s funeral.’’

The trial involves 26 soccer federation officials, team executives and referees who are accused of conspiring together to throw matches. A prosecutor is demanding that the country’s most famous soccer club, Juventus, be stripped of recent championships and demoted to the league’s lowest division, which is not unlike the Giants being sent to play a season of AAA ball.

The case has had a huge impact throughout Europe and has become a major story in the World Cup since more than half of the Italian team plays for the clubs involved in the bribing scandal. The Italian coach is trying to use the trial as a motivating factor for his side, and it must be working, because the squad seems very anxious to spend as much time playing in Germany as it can.

Still, the World Cup has been so good that even the referees can’t spoil it — no matter how hard they try. There have been more cards handed out this tournament than in a Las Vegas casino, many on highly questionable penalties that have sent some worthy teams packing. Officiating always comes under scrutiny in the biggest sporting events, but this time it’s come under fire.

But it was all part of a great monthlong tale, one that will conclude Sunday with drunken fans and traffic jams from Rome to Paris to San Francisco. Those who feign disinterest can take some time off, but the world’s calendar is already marked — South Africa 2010.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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