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Kansas City Man Highlights His Culture's Food And Sport During World Cup

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Courtesy Bella Napoli.
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  Italy didn’t even end up in the top four spots in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For a nation that’s obsessed with soccer, that was basically an utter failure.

This time around, the Azzurri, as the Italian team is known by its fans, started the World Cup with a strong victory over England. 

Last Saturday evening, about two dozen mostly blue-clad fans of Italy’s men’s soccer team crowded into Brookside restaurant Bella Napoli to chow on pizzas, tapas and other authentic Italian food from the menu while watching their team defeat England 2-1.

The thriller from the World Cup’s group stage provided ample opportunities for the Italian crowd to cheer and hold its collective breath until the final whistle. The man largely responsible for organizing the Italian watch party is Giorgio Antongirolami, the associate head coach of men’s soccer coach at Rockhurst University and general manager at Bella Napoli. Antongirolami, a native of Rome, says American soccer fans generally don’t take it as seriously Italians do.

“I would put soccer, in many cases, ahead of religion,” he says.

He even goes as far as to suggest certain Italians could use to expand their interests. Otherwise, he jokes, the game could start to disrupt their love lives.

“Soccer is a main thing that you talk about,” he says. “It’s probably 80 percent of the conversations. So, sometimes when you have a date with a girl, it’s pretty tough to have a date, because I don’t think many Italian people know how to communicate with them other than soccer.”

Antongirolami came to Kansas City in 1997 to try out for the Kansas City Wizards, the soccer team that later became Sporting Kansas City. An injury prevented him from playing at the sport’s highest level, but he stayed in Kansas City, got a soccer scholarship at Rockhurst University and became a coach at the school in 2000.

In his role with the men’s soccer team, Antongirolami often recruits young Italian players to come play for the team. It’s an opportunity many players are eager for, he says, because young people in Italy don’t often get the chance to be students and athletes at the same time.

“They really like the fact that they can compete and study at the same time. That’s something you can’t do in Italy,” he says, noting that most professional soccer teams require their young players to give up their studies. “If you’re a student, you’re a student. If you’re an athlete, you’re an athlete.”

By cultivating an Italian fan base in Kansas City, Antongirolami hopes to recreate the excitement he felt in 2006. That year, he and some American friends were in Rome when Italy won its fourth World Cup in thrilling penalty kicks over France. He recalls traffic in Rome coming to a complete stop all night as fans flooded the streets in the celebration.

“I just hope to win a World Cup to see what we as Italians can do in Kansas City,” he says, giddy with the prospect of Italy fans in the streets of Kansas City.

Italy next plays Costa Rica at 11 a.m. Friday. 

As the FIFA 2014 World enters its second week in Brazil, we have the second installment in a series checking in on some of Kansas City’s international communities and how they’re cheering their home teams from afar.

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