U.S. fans have World Cup seeing stars (and stripes)

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JOHANNESBURG — Ryan Appell stood on an isolated stretch of highway on the outskirts of an old South African mining town dressed like Betsy Ross’ worst nightmare.

He wore a bandana and a scarf made from a U.S. flag, had a flag tied around his neck and carried another in his hands. “This,” he says with a smile, “is me.”

Apparently, it’s a lot of other Americans, too, because the U.S. soccer team’s fan base, which once consisted primarily of friends and family members, has swelled into one of the largest contingents at this World Cup.

According to FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, only South Africa bought more tickets to this World Cup than the U.S. And while some of the 136,500 tickets sold in the U.S — more than the number sold in Germany, Italy, France, Mexico and Brazil combined — were undoubtedly purchased by fans who came here to root for one of the 31 other teams in the tournament, Appell was hardly the only American fan who made the difficult trip halfway around the world.

For the Americans’ game Friday in Johannesburg, fans came wearing an endless array of hats, scarves, pants, shirts and face paint in the design of the U.S. flag. There were also two people dressed as astronauts (carrying a sign reading “South Africa We Have Landed”) and one Elvis impersonator. You can expect more of the same in Pretoria on Wednesday, when the U.S. meets Algeria in its final match in group play.

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