SAPPORO — Pack 100 or so delirious Italians and another 50 frustrated Ecuadoreans into a bar already filled with locals expecting a quiet drink after work on a Monday night and what would you expect?

According to the Japanese media carnage on the scale of throwing the Christians to the lions. Judging by the police presence outside the ‘Rad Brothers’ bar in Sapporo on Monday night you would think that Mike Tyson had been let loose on the streets without his medication.

In fact the police were the only people not having a good time that night . . . because they had nothing to do. The atmosphere was so good-natured, one could have been forgiven for thinking that their respective fans had swapped shirts in the bar midway through their celebrations.

First Italian chants rang out then Ecuadorean battle cries were sung, followed by a unified “Nippon Ganbatte” and then an even more equivocal “Sa-ppo-ro, Sa-ppo-ro, Sa-ppo-ro.”

Both sets of fans danced on tables together, beer sprayed all over the place but not a single punch was thrown in anger.

Sapporo had never seen anything like it.

According to Sapporo resident Aki Fukushima, 23, Monday night was “one of the most enjoyable nights out I have ever had.”

OK this may have had something to do with the Paolo Maldini lookalike buying her drinks the whole night but that is the whole point of the World Cup — a point not lost on the fans in the pub that night — that is the universal spirit that the World Cup brings.

Aki’s friend Aya Yamamoto said toward the end of the evening, “I can’t wait for England-Argentina on Friday night (incidentally the last time for a very long time that the these Sapporo residents will have a chance to experience such World Cup celebrations in their hometown as it is the last game that Sapporo is hosting in the tournament).”

Sadly Aki and Aya may have to wait until they are knitting jerseys for their grandchildren before this happens as the majority of bars in the city have decided to close their doors on Friday night in anticipation of English “fooliganism”.

The only fools are the bar owners themselves as the clean spirit of the fans have proved with the only violent incident so far coming from a 20-year-old Japanese college student venting his frustration at a ticketing official in Saitama after unsuccessfully trying for hours to purchase a ticket on the shambolic official Web site.

Make no mistake the English fans will still drink — win or lose — only any slim chance of aggressive behavior may now have been heightened by denying them access to their age-old tradition of having a drink in a pub after the game.

The World Cup is also supposed to serve the purpose of giving the host nation(s) a chance to show off their country to the world in the hope of attracting future tourism.

What kind of message does this send out?

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