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U.S. Army Spc. Ali Yaffa waves the Stars and Stripes after USA scores its one goal in the match against Italy. Italian soldiers are not subject to General Order No. 1, and therefore were allowed to drink alcohol, but Yaffa, who is Muslim, stuck to iced tea. The match, he said, was exciting enough.

U.S. Army Spc. Ali Yaffa waves the Stars and Stripes after USA scores its one goal in the match against Italy. Italian soldiers are not subject to General Order No. 1, and therefore were allowed to drink alcohol, but Yaffa, who is Muslim, stuck to iced tea. The match, he said, was exciting enough. (Anita Powell / S&S)

U.S. Army Spc. Ali Yaffa waves the Stars and Stripes after USA scores its one goal in the match against Italy. Italian soldiers are not subject to General Order No. 1, and therefore were allowed to drink alcohol, but Yaffa, who is Muslim, stuck to iced tea. The match, he said, was exciting enough.

U.S. Army Spc. Ali Yaffa waves the Stars and Stripes after USA scores its one goal in the match against Italy. Italian soldiers are not subject to General Order No. 1, and therefore were allowed to drink alcohol, but Yaffa, who is Muslim, stuck to iced tea. The match, he said, was exciting enough. (Anita Powell / S&S)

Italian Brig. Gen. Carmine De Pascale, commander of Italian Joint Task Force in Iraq, commissioned a feast to accompany the game.

Italian Brig. Gen. Carmine De Pascale, commander of Italian Joint Task Force in Iraq, commissioned a feast to accompany the game. (Anita Powell / S&S)

ITALIAN ARMY CAMP MITTACA, Iraq — Support for the U.S.-Italy World Cup match emanated from a very unlikely place on Saturday night.

For a few precious hours, as Italian and American soldiers stationed in southern Iraq hunkered down before a big-screen television to watch the game, the world didn’t seem so big.

Italian officials with the Caserta, Italy-based Garibaldi Brigade, which is stationed near Tallil, took special efforts to make the game available to soldiers, extending hours on the on-base cafe and inviting soldiers from other nations to watch the match.

Italian Army Brig. Gen. Carmine De Pascale, commander of Italian Joint Task Force-Iraq and a longtime soccer player himself, said he felt compelled to follow the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

“Watching the match from Iraq, I feel more Italian,” he said.

In the future, he said, he hopes to organize friendly games between American and Italian soldiers stationed at Tallil.

He said he was especially buoyed by the Italian team’s commitment to dedicate a win to Italian soldiers stationed in Iraq.

“I think when a player thinks about us, we can be proud of that,” he said.

“It means the Italian population, even the champions, thinks of us.”

The American contingent in attendance was a small and motley crew: Army 1st Lt. Freddy Muñoz, 26, of Maple Grove, Minn., a second-generation Mexican immigrant; Army Spc. Ali Yaffa, 32, a native of Banjul, Gambia, and a resident of St. Paul, Minn.; former high school soccer player Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Eggleston, 29, and an assemblage of American contractors and State Department employees.

“This is so funny,” noted Italian Army Capt. Roberto Forlani, 28, of Caserta, Italy.

“They live in the USA and they love soccer. I live in Italy and I love American football.”

Although small, the American fan base showed no lack of spirit.

Muñoz, who as a liaison between Italian and American forces lives on the Italian base, used the opportunity to show his stripes.

“So Yaffa,” he said, “should I bring my American flag out of my room?”

“Bring it,” countered Yaffa, who said he’s anxiously anticipating his American naturalization on July 4. “I’ll carry it.”

And carry it he did, draping it proudly over his shoulders and striding into the cafe to the cheers and jeers of Italian soldiers.

“Look around,” Eggleston said.

“We’re outnumbered. You can’t tell me this isn’t going to be fun.”

As the match commenced, Italian soldiers boisterously sang along to the Italian national anthem, but respectfully maintained their silence as the ragtag American contingent sang along to theirs.

“To the U.S.!” Muñoz said, holding aloft a can of soda. “I just want one goal. One U.S. goal and I’m happy.”

Soldiers of several nationalities watched raptly as both teams battled for ground and points.

Italian, American and Romanian soldiers traded barbs and cheers as both teams battled on the field.

At halftime, in the considerably more sedate officers’ viewing room, Italian officers feasted on spicy penne arrabiata, prosciutto, cured meats, generous chunks of parmesan cheese and thick, cheesy homemade pizza.

Throughout the match, American and Italian soldiers exchanged hugs and handshakes, took photographs with the American flag, and yelled occasionally at the television.

Afterwards, spirits somewhat dampened by the tie, Italian soldiers exchanged hugs and handshakes with their American friends.

Yaffa, already in high spirits after Ghana’s surprise upset over the Czech Republic earlier that evening, was ecstatic by the game’s result.

“It was a wonderful game,” he said.

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