SCRANTON — One of the loudest cheers of the day came for Portugal. For Cristiano Ronaldo, no less.
Yeah, that guy.
Portugal’s slick superstar, whose brilliant cross set up that heartbreaking last-possible-second goal against the United States on Sunday, got a big round of applause from Northeastern Pennsylvania soccer fans when he scored on Thursday.
At Ale Mary’s in Scranton, those fans alternated between World Cup nerves and World Cup bliss as the U.S. lost to Germany but still advanced to the knockout round thanks in part to Portugal’s win over Ghana.
Attentions were split between different TVs as the two group G matches were contested simultaneously, with all four teams still alive to advance.
When the final whistle blew in both games, the recently opened pub roared with approval before bursting into an impromptu rendition of “God Bless America.”
“How ‘bout it?” said Karen Brazil, the owner of Ale Mary’s. “Our best lunch (crowd) ever. We’ve been open three months, and this is the best we’ve ever had, seriously.”
It was a packed house as area fans came to celebrate the World Cup, which tends to unite casual and hardcore fans of the sport alike. And this for a noon start in the middle of the week.
While the U.S. struggled to mount an attack against the powerhouse German side in the first half, most of the cheers were reserved for keeper Tim Howard, who was sharp in keeping the match scoreless.
Tension was building up at the bar after halftime, however, as fans gnawed on fingernails when Germany went up 1-0 and Ghana equalized at 1-1 against Portugal. A Ghana victory and a U.S. loss almost certainly would have ended the World Cup festivities for another four years.
But the place never quieted down.
Sarah Holmes took it upon herself to elevate above the crowd, twice cranking up the decibel level by leading chants of “I believe that we will win.”
“I’m a little hoarse,” Holmes, of Clarks Summit, said with a laugh after the match. “It was my first time getting the cheer going here. I’m a little afraid for work later, but it was worth it.”
Any jangled nerves, however, were soothed when Ronaldo calmly slotted a rebound into the far corner of the Ghana net to erase any danger of the U.S. being eliminated.
“I’m just happy that I don’t have to cheer for him again,” joked Rick Snyder of Dunmore, who said he preferred La Liga rival FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi to Ronaldo and his Real Madrid club.
There weren’t many club uniforms on display on Thursday, however. Outside of the usual red, white and blue apparel there were plenty of U.S. jerseys in the crowd.
Some wore the names of current national team standouts — Howard and Michael Bradley being the most popular. But there were a couple of older names, too, including one for former U.S. captain Claudio Reyna.
One of the few patrons dressed in business attire had a good reason for it. He politely declined to give his name after admitting that he “snuck out of work” to take in the second half.
Thursday’s match never quite reached the crescendo of Sunday’s delirious beer-spraying celebration when Clint Dempsey scored to put the U.S. ahead of Portugal, according to people who were at Ale Mary’s on both days. Then again, it also didn’t have the deflating conclusion that saw Portugal steal away a U.S. victory.
Brazil said Dempsey’s marker was the highlight of the World Cup so far at the pub.
“Oh, the second goal of Sunday’s game was definitely it,” Brazil said. “But we were just floored when that game was over, though.
“The numbness. You were just numb.”
The feeling apparently didn’t linger long enough to keep people away from Thursday’s early start.
And with at least one more game to go — the U.S. faces Belgium in the Round of 16 at 4 p.m. on Tuesday — area fans will have another reason to come together and celebrate.
“I love the atmopshere,” Holmes said. “I love that everyone’s always so hyped up. I love the fun. I love the family.”