PORTLAND – The ball was in the German net, and maybe half of the neighbors, friends and strangers who crowded into Harro Jakel’s carriage house Wednesday were on their feet, applauding and cheering. To American eyes, the scene was puzzling.

Why were German fans celebrating a Spanish goal in a World Cup semifinal? It was the game’s only goal, the one that dashed German hopes for a finals matchup against the Netherlands.

“It was a good goal, a beautiful goal,” said Jakel. “It was a fantastic game. Of course we wish the outcome was different.”

This is the part of the world’s game that many Americans don’t get and maybe never fully will understand.

This is what separates us from them. We have this thing about defining winners and losers. If CC Sabathia strikes out 20 Red Sox in a deciding Game 7, we’re conditioned to say that’s ugly.

Jakel and every other fan of German football must wait another four years to learn if their team can be the world’s best. Wednesday he all but shrugged. Spain played beautifully, he said. A young German team will learn. He can wait.

Jakel and his wife, Betsy Whitman, opened their home in the leafy neighborhood adjacent to the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland when the World Cup started last month.

He rented the largest flat-screen television he could find in the city — some 70-plus inches — positioned it on the ground floor of his two-story carriage house, brought in extra chairs and stools, and invited friends who spread the word to other friends.

Wednesday, a crowd of 40 to 50 World Cup fans spilled out onto the double-wide, blacktop driveway.

“We’ve had German, Dutch, Spanish, Mexico, a Thai man, an Argentinian, a Cuban and ” Betsy Whitman paused. She didn’t want to leave anyone out. “We haven’t been here for all the games. We told people to come anyway, open the door and turn on the television.”

Weekends were busier. Games involving the U.S. also drew overflow crowds. Tiny goal cages were placed at either end of the driveway for impromptu games. Fans brought snacks to share. Wednesday, boxes of fruit ice pops suddenly appeared and were passed around.

“At first I knew everybody,” said Jakel. “Then I started seeing faces I didn’t know. Fantastic. This is what soccer is all about. The whole world is coming to the game and we’re part of it.”

Jakel grew up in Stuttgart and Hannover before coming to America about 25 years ago, or about the same time Jos Van Mierlo emigrated from Roosendaal, near the Dutch border with Belgium. The two became friends and four years ago watched the World Cup sitting in front of Van Mierlo’s much smaller television. When Jakel decided to do bigger, Van Mierlo offered encouragement.

“This is community,” said Van Mierlo as the crowd started to return to their homes. “This is making the family bigger.”

Carlin Whitehouse, a Kennebunk native, showed up wearing the German tri-colored flag as a cape. He clutched two much smaller flags. He had traveled to Europe in 2001 and watched a game in Munich. He was hooked. “There’s nothing like football in Europe. A lot of pomp, a lot of tradition, if I can call it that.

“It’s hard to be a soccer fan in America. Here, some fans pretend they know what they’re talking about. In Europe, every fanatic takes it to the extreme level.”

Joris Weimar is two years removed from The Hague, in the Netherlands. He’s a graduate student in mathematics at Brown University. His wife found a summer job in Portland and now he’s anticipating Sunday’s championship game between the Dutch and Spain.

“It’s our passion,” said Weimar. He saw the televised scenes of thousands of Dutch fans celebrating their team’s semifinals win over Uruguay on Tuesday. “It made me a little nostalgic.”

Two more games. The Netherlands plays Spain for the World Cup. Germany plays Uruguay for third place. The carriage house may be packed again.

“Soccer fans are very objective,” said Van Mierlo, ignoring for a moment the passions involved. “We are not hooligans. We enjoy the game.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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