Where to score some big-screen World Cup action, from Civic Center to North Beach
SPORTS The Olympics may get the most props for bringing sports fans of all nationalities together in (mostly) friendly competition. But as futbol fans know, a simple "gooooaaaallll!" translates thrillingly into any language. Like millions of World Cup soccer enthusiasts around the globe, I'll be parking my particulars in front of the biggest screens in town for this year's spectacle (June 11-July 11). And fortunately, no matter where you are in the city, you should be able to do the same. Here's a short list of some of the best places to go and check out a match or 10. Too numerous to list are the many sports bars and Irish/English pubs that will undoubtedly be open (Bus Stop, Kezar Pub, the Phoenix, Mad Dog in the Fog, Balompie Café — here's looking at you!), but you'll find them easily enough on your own. Just follow the sounds of "ole, ole, ole, ole" wafting in the breeze, grab a stripy scarf, and plunge into the fray.
Civic Center: If you can't force your soccer-loving employees to come to work during the big matches, at least you can cut down on their commute by installing a giant 13-by-18-foot screen in front of City Hall and inviting the neighbors 'round. Jens-Peter Jungclaussen, the "teacher-with-the-bus" who almost single-handedly wrangled 10,000 people to a screening of the 2006 final at Dolores Park, is helping spearhead the city's ambitious 2010 operation, with 10 days of screenings including all quarterfinal, semifinal, and final matches, and a corresponding youth soccer tournament organized by America SCORES.
AT&T Park: "Take me out to the ballgame" gets a brand new meaning at AT&T Park where they'll be screening the big USA-England match on June 12 for free. Open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the ballpark expects 5,000 fans to show up. If you ever wanted to give soccer hooliganism a try, this might well be the place. Just try not to get all Bill Buford about it.
24 Willie Mays Plaza, SF. (415) 972-2000
Goethe Institute: Even though the games aren't being played in the vaterland this year, native German-speakers and we amis who love them will be gathering at the institute to watch the Germany-Australia game on June 13, and the Germany-Ghana match on June 23. Kickoff time for both games is 11:30 a.m., more screenings will be announced presuming Germany progresses to the next levels.
530 Bush, SF. (415) 263-8760, www.goethe.de/sanfrancisco 
Mercury Lounge: Who would have thought that a relatively innocuous den of SoMa-style iniquity would decide to open its doors to the rough-and-tumble world of footie fandom? If you can get through the somewhat self-indulgent event webpage, you'll come away pretty excited about the prospect of seeing matches every day from 6 a.m., with drink specials, breakfast menu, and (ick) bar-staff "eye candy". Don't get me started on that, but do expect to see me put in an appearance or two for half-volleys and hash browns.
1582 Folsom, SF. (415) 551-1582, www.sfworldcup2010.com 
Horatius: The proprietor of this Potrero Hill café, Horacio Gomes, has thrown down the "best place to watch the World Cup" gauntlet by promising to be open for every single match — including those that start at 4:30 a.m. — and screening simultaneous games when they occur. Plus, the venue boasts a 15-by-15-foot projection screen that you won't find at your run-of-the-mill sports bar and a capacity for up to 300 people. Free coffee will be served during the early morning matches, and light breakfast at 6 a.m.
350 Kansas, SF. (415) 252-3500, www.horatius.com 
Steps of Rome Caffe: This North Beach stronghold is also planning to be open for every game — including those 4:30 matches that only the most diehard fans would consider attending (New Zealand vs. Slovakia anyone?). If you're not yet a diehard fan, this might be the place that turns you into one, what with all that Italian coffee, pizza, and overseas-bred enthusiasm for the world's greatest game flowing like a robust house red.
348 Columbus, SF. (415) 397-0435, www.stepsofromecaffe.com