A World Cup odyssey through Chicago’s soccer-loving ethnic communities

In Chicago, it’s easy to find watch parties for fans of many different teams competing for soccer’s world championship.

Fans celebrate in front of Barra Ñ on Elston Avenue after Argentina beat Mexico on Saturday in the World Cup.
Fans celebrate in front of Barra Ñ on Elston Avenue after Argentina beat Mexico on Saturday in the World Cup. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ
Fans celebrate in front of Barra Ñ on Elston Avenue after Argentina beat Mexico on Saturday in the World Cup.
Fans celebrate in front of Barra Ñ on Elston Avenue after Argentina beat Mexico on Saturday in the World Cup. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

A World Cup odyssey through Chicago’s soccer-loving ethnic communities

In Chicago, it’s easy to find watch parties for fans of many different teams competing for soccer’s world championship.

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In a city as diverse as Chicago, it’s not hard to find fans of many different teams competing for the quadrennial men’s World Cup.

It doesn’t matter that this year’s tournament is being held in the winter. All weekend long, as the best players competed in Qatar, members of ethnic communities across the Chicago area wore the colors of the old country, chanted in their native tongues, ate, drank and watched the world’s biggest sporting event.

This past weekend, there were raucous, standing-room-only gatherings for fans of Argentina, Croatia and Germany on the North Side of Chicago.

“Messi will not let us down”

Barra Ñ, an Argentine restaurant on Elston Avenue, is the best place in the city to watch the world’s best soccer player.

Fans dressed in Argentina’s light blue and white packed Barra Ñ to chant and cheer for Lionel Messi as he pursues his first World Cup title.

Martha Oñate is from Colombia but said she’s a Messi fan above all.

“Messi does not let us down,” Oñate said in Spanish. “Messi is the best.”

Argentina fans celebrate a goal by Lionel Messi at Barra Ñ in Chicago on Saturday.
Argentina fans celebrate a goal by Lionel Messi at Barra Ñ in Chicago on Saturday. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

Sure enough, Messi opened the scoring against Mexico. Most of the people in the bar got doused by a fan who waved around a bottle of Quilmes beer.

At the end of Argentina’s 2-0 win, the crowd chanted, “Olé, olé, olé, ole, Messi, Messi!”

Outside the bar, Delfina Caversaschi — who is from Buenos Aires originally — said she came all the way from Ohio to the restaurant just to watch the game with other people from Argentina.

She said Argentina’s hinchas — the fans — are the best in the world.

Croatia’s team unites families

The Croatian Cultural Center of Chicago on Devon Avenue was the site of big watch parties four years ago, when Croatia finished second in the last World Cup to France.

Croatian confidence was high again after Sunday’s 4-1 win over Canada.

A young man in the team’s trademark red-and-white checkerboard jersey said the Croatian team played like “heroes,” recovering from an early Canadian goal.

Croatian-American fans celebrate a goal in the World Cup on Sunday at a watch party in the community’s cultural center on Devon Avenue.
Croatian-American fans celebrate a goal in the World Cup on Sunday at a watch party in the community’s cultural center on Devon Avenue. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

The team is a symbol of a country that regained its independence after the fall of the communist bloc some 30 years ago.

“It’s a great day to represent our home country,” said Nick Mihalic, who went to Croatian language school at the cultural center and played on the community’s youth soccer team.

Maria Jukic brought three generations of her family to the center to watch the game.

“I have my daughter, my son and my mother-in-law,” Jukic said.

After the game, everyone joins together to sing a popular song from the old country.

Fans of the German World Cup team watch their game in the bar at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center on Western Avenue.
Fans of the German World Cup team watch their game in the bar at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center on Western Avenue. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

A bar transplanted from an iconic Chicago restaurant

From the Croatian center, it’s a short drive south to see the day’s final game: Spain against Germany.

The game is on in the second-floor bar of the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center, in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Marco Heuer, the center’s board president, was born and grew up behind the Iron Curtain, in what was communist East Germany at the time.

Heuer said the World Cup watch parties are “one of the key cultural events that we do, Germany being one of the soccer nations of the world.”

The center also offers German language classes for children and adults, seeking to be inclusive to all the people in a changing part of the city that’s not nearly as German as it once was.

If you come and watch a Germany game at the DANK Haus, it might all seem eerily familiar. That’s because the center’s bar was transported over to the DANK Haus building from the Chicago Brauhaus, an iconic restaurant on nearby Lincoln Avenue that closed five years ago.

On Sunday afternoon, Germany’s fans in Chicago carried tall steins of frothy beer from the bar and watched a tie game that kept alive the country’s hopes of winning another World Cup in the final on Dec. 18.

Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.