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American fans in South Africa celebrate say World Cup better than expected.
PRETORIA, South Africa – U.S. fans rejoiced today at the American team's extra time goal, by man of the match Landon Donovan, that secured a 1-0 win over Algeria. The U.S. team wins their C group and advances to the final 16.
If the experience of U.S. soccer fans is anything to go by, South Africa’s hosting of the soccer World Cup has so far more than fulfilled expectations.
Among the long-term benefits that South Africa hopes to reap from hosting the first World Cup on African soil are increased investment and tourism. It could be a tall order for a faraway destination that is plagued by a high crime rate, but based on interviews with American fans at the United States’ last group game against Algeria in Pretoria, they’ve been conquered.
“Without exception, the people of South Africa have been welcoming, generous, helpful, gracious, understanding, just lovely beautiful people,” said Michael Martaus, 53, a Cleveland sales and marketing executive who had dreamed of attending a World Cup ever since seeing confetti rain down on the victorious Argentinean team in 1978.
As a group, American visitors are an important one for South Africa. Last year, Americans ranked second in terms of overseas tourists to South Africa behind British visitors. Outside South Africa, more World Cup tickets have been sold to Americans than to residents of any other country.
The main concern for many visiting fans was security. South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with about 50 people killed each day. Organizers have addressed the issue by mobilizing 40,000 members of the country’s police force to assure the event’s security.
“We are aware of it,” said Martaus of South Africa’s crime situation. “It didn’t stop us, but it concerned us.”
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Martaus and his sister Terry from Seattle said they feared for the worst when they got lost one night in the notorious industrial area around Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium. After wandering around for almost two hours, they finally ventured inside a bar to ask for help and found a customer who put down his beer to offer assistance.
“He said: ‘I’ve lived my whole life in this neighborhood. I know exactly where you need to go,’ and he took us there by car,” Martaus said.
Terry Martaus, 51, said that she still has reservations about going to fan zones at night but that the perils of driving on the left side of the road far outweigh the dangers of roaming around on foot on South Africa’s streets.