Dream come true for USA fans
Cape Town -"It's a dream come true," said US soccer fan Sofan Harris as his national team stunned long-time foes Ghana on Monday, at a sport battling to shed its reputation here as a game for kids.
Cheers erupted in the Pig and Whistle Pub on Hollywood Boulevard as the United States won their first match at the Soccer World Cup in Brazil, against an African team who frankly were favorites to win.
"Ghana has knocked us out of the last two World Cups," said Harris, 34, before asking "How long did it take for us to score the first goal? - a reference to Clint Dempsey's jaw-dropping opener after just 30 seconds.
"That was awesome," added Mike Cornwell, 42, perched just along the bar at the pub a stone's throw from Tinseltown's tourist hub. "They've always had problems ... in the past, but they managed to come through and turned the corner."
The US win avenged defeats to the same opposition in the past two World Cups, the latter when Ghana went on to the quarter-finals. It was only the third time in 12 World Cup matches that USA have scored more than one goal.
The Americans still face an uphill struggle - they are in the so-called group of death along with major footballing countries including Germany and Portugal, so no-one is under any illusions.
But the opening victory in Brazil was encouraging - and will also be good new for the sport's marketing people here.
Football -- sorry, soccer -- is famously not as popular in America as in the rest of the world. It's traditionally been a game children play, before graduating to proper sports like American football, baseball or basketball.
But team USA organizers hope the 2014 World Cup will further boost the sport's image in a country where Major League Soccer, helped by European stars like David Beckham, has made significant progress in recent years.
"Soccer has just continued to grow in popularity among sports fans here," the Pig and Whistle's day supervisor Carla Laudicina said, in a bar decked out with inflatable balls and cut-out soccer stars for the Brazil tournament.
A couple of blocks away at the Cat and Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard, 41-year-old Cheke Whitfield said the USA team never made it to the World Cup when he was a kid.
"And then from 1990 we made the World Cup (and) we kept getting better and better. And you see more fans every four years," he said. "I don't know if it'll ever be as big as football, but it will certainly become more popular."
Whitney Timmons was also among the crowd of boisterous fans celebrating after watching the match on screens in the bar and around a beer garden sheltered from the mid-afternoon traffic.
"I'm happy that we're ahead, but it's sort of scary," said the 33-year-old of America's stunning debut but challenging prospects in their tough first round group matches. "I hope we progress past this round," she said.
Back at the Pig and Whistle, Harris was cautiously optimistic about America's chances. The USA's next World Cup match is next Sunday, against Portugal, followed by a game against Germany on June 26.
"Seeing that performance tonight I don't think it's luck. I think they earned that game," he said Monday.
"And I know that Germany and Portugal are great teams. But I also know that Portugal didn't live up to expectations," he said, referring to Portugal's 4-0 defeat to Germany earlier Monday. "So maybe we'll take out Portugal," he said.
"I don't know about Germany. But this team obviously just proved itself, that it has some teeth. And I'm happy about that."