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Fan frenzy ahead of face-off between the US and England

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-06-14

In anticipation of Saturday's face-off between the US and England, football fans from both sides of the Atlantic ocean have swarmed the South African town of Rustenburg where the match will be hosted.

AFP - A mass of English and US football fans overwhelmed the South African backwater of Rustenburg Saturday, grabbing a bed for the night in private homes and drinking the bars dry.

"I think this is the biggest thing that ever happened to Rustenburg," said Carien Venter, owner of the Loerie-in guesthouse after not only filling out her 11 rooms but also arranging for another 18 people to stay with friends.

"And I'm not the only one. A lot of people booked out houses. If I had 100 rooms, I would have sold them all out tonight," she told AFP.

Rustenburg, whose name means "Town of Rest" in Afrikaans, is one of the smallest of the nine cities hosting the World Cup.

A mining town in North West province, it is usually no more than a rest stop for people on their way to the nearby Magaliesburg mountain range, game reserves or the Vegas-style Sun City resort.

Saturday's is much the most eye-watering of its five first round games.

Around 10,000 England fans are expected to pack into the Royal Bafokeng Stadium but most local supporters will also cheer on the Three Lions with English football widely shown on South African television.

Four thousand extra seats have been added to the stadium, bring the overall capacity at up to 42,000. Many more are expected to watch on giant television screens in a fan park in the city centre.

Large numbers of local and national police patrolled the streets ahead of a match that has been deemed to have a high terror risk rating.

"We have definitely beefed up security for this evening's match by putting additional members in place, bringing sniffer dogs, additional bomb technicians, by putting in place very strict access controls," national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer told AFP.

"We all know that the US, the UK are very much a priority ... That's not to say that we have traced any specific risk, but one never wants to take anything for granted."

A team of 12 British police officers has also gone to South Africa to help their local counterparts identify possible troublemakers and offer advice on how to handle the supporters, especially when drunk.

The English fans began packing out bars from the mid-morning, draping the windows with red and white flags. One watering hole near the stadium, the P.H. Network Cafe, had run out of beer some four hours before kick-off.

The atmosphere was largely good-natured and supporters of both sides mingled freely. As they queued for up to an hour to enter the gates and pass through security metal detectors, the chants of England supporters had to compete against a backdrop of "U.S.A".

While England fans have in the past gained a reputation for hooliganism, supporters said they did not feel any trouble was likely this time.

"You've got lots of fans here, but I don't think any of us are hooligans," said Tim Marshall from Cheltenham in western England.

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, head of the British police team in Rustenburg, said the bad reputation of English fans was outdated.

"The chances of organised disorder happening in South Africa are very limited indeed," he told reporters.

The number of English fans is smaller than in previous competitions, partly as a result of negative publicity about South Africa's crime rate in the British press.

"It (the press coverage) has turned a few people off, but if they were to know what it's actually like, they'd come out," said Jack Barnes from Bristol. "We haven't had any trouble since we've been here."

England are the strong favourites but the US team are seen as the second strongest in the group and their supporters were also exuding confidence.

"I'm excited, I've got a lot of confidence in the US team," said Brian Moore, from Atlanta. "It's the strongest team we've had in a long time."

Date created : 2010-06-12

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