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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Tears in Italian Soho
Italy score
Vieri's goal was the one moment of jubilation

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A silent disbelief decended on Soho in central London after two hours of high drama and hysteria on Tuesday afternoon.

And a collective grief followed as Frith Street came to terms with Italy's World Cup exit.

Men and women sat on the kerb to assess the defeat and wept on each other's shoulders.

The three adjacent Italian bars - so full that hundreds were forced to watch from the street - were more used to scenes of triumph on these occasions.
Gabriella Pirfo and Marina Nigrelli
Fans were inconsolable

Hence the bunting, the sandwich stalls and the free pizza.

But there was never a sense of confidence amongst the fans.

Even before kick-off, there was a nervous tension and few dared to predict the score because they genuinely feared the worst.

It took a struggle through people ten-deep, just to get to the front door of Cafe Italia.
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The football team brought us together as cousins.
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Stella Valerka

So I was rather surprised to find the best seats in the house, upstairs in front of the big screen, taken by two Greeks and an American.

For them, their adopted football team held a special meaning.

Greek cousins Foulla Korkou and Stella Valerka had formed their friendship around the cause, so it was appropriate they should console each other afterwards.

'Fifa conspiracy'

Stella, 22, said: "The football team brought us together as cousins.

"We both loved Roberto Baggio in 1994.

"And it's the closest we have to the Greek team."

They watched their beloved team play at Anfield in Euro '96 but otherwise met up in Italian Soho for the big games.
Foulla Korkou and Stella Valerka
The tension was unbearable for some

"It's the heart of Italy - where else can you go?" said Foulla.

Italy had also cast its spell on their new friend Michael Summers, from San Diego, who was watching his first World Cup tournament.

The 27-year-old half-Italian had become a soccer convert on the strength of Italy's performances.

He said: "It's more exciting than American sports - the players are more athletic and the action is more sustained."

Anguish

Few are as partisan as Italian football supporters and even Gary Lineker, who some would consider above reproach, received a chorus of boos when he reminded them about their lowest World Cup moment - ironically losing to North Korea in 1966.

Vieri's goal temporarily settled the nerves but fear set in again as Italy sat back on their slender lead.

The substitution of Del Piero was greeted by boos and there was anguish etched on every face long before Korea deservedly equalised.
Frith Street, Soho, London
Frith Street was bedecked in colour

A glaring miss by Vieri brought howls of disbelief but there was little time to recover any nerves before Ahn Jung-Hwan settled the issue with the 'golden goal'.

Cafe Italia, Bar Italia and Little Italy were empty in seconds, as people avoided the televised reminders of what had happened.

A tearful Marina Nigrelli, 17, from Harrow, said: "Italy have a tendency to relax when they get a goal and they go defensive and lose it.

"This feels worse than when we've lost on penalties."

Another fan, Antony Juliani, 21, from Balham, offered a more sinister explanation.

"Fifa wanted us out - how can we have four goals ruled offside in two games?"


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