News Local

Little Italy showcases 'the sweet life' on the Drive

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Cousins Michael and Franco Mannarino celebrate Italy's first goal of Euro 2012 at Caffé Roma on Commercial drive in Vancouver Sunday. (GEOFF LISTER, 24 HOURS)

Cousins Michael and Franco Mannarino celebrate Italy's first goal of Euro 2012 at Caffé Roma on Commercial drive in Vancouver Sunday. (GEOFF LISTER, 24 HOURS)

Moments before the Euro Championship kickoff, Italian national team captain Gianluigi Buffon wrote a message to his Vancouver fans, many of whom were about to celebrate Sunday's annual Italian Day on Commercial Drive.

"Team goalie and captain (Buffon), sent the message, 'Ciao tifosi . Hello fans from Vancouver, have a good Italian Day,'" translated Randy Ronaldo, watching the game at the Caffe Roma Sports Bar in the local 'Little Italy' neighbourhood.

"It's unbelievable. It's incredible. They're thinking of us today, on this such an important day, and here we are. What a perfect scenario."

The Italian national team, considered the underdogs going against defending Euro Championship holder Spain, held the match to draw Sunday morning, while hundreds of local fans cheered on from packed coffee shops and bars. Commercial Drive, from East 3rd Avenue to Parker Street, was closed until 8 p.m. for the celebrations.

PHOTOS: Festivities on the Drive

"It shows they still got the skill," said fan Anthony Modicaamore, responding to an ongoing Italian team scandal where two players - including a star defender - were suspended.

"Every match is a tough match, no matter what, they're a tough world-class team. Anybody can win on any day," added longtime fan Sam Commiso.

Filled with nationalistic pride, locals - many garbed in the team's light-blue jerseys - erupted onto the streets after the match, where they met numerous event pavilions, street-side vendors, sports car showcase displays and staged fashion shows, among other Italian Day attractions.

"The explorations, the inventions, what would this world be without Italy? We wouldn't even have discovered America," remarked the 30-year-old Ronaldo.

"We're going to be enjoying the food and festivities, the family and friends, all the Italians here - in what should be officially designated Little Italy."

Italy will face off against Croatia Thursday.