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Teams Enjoy Unusual Venues at South African Cup

FIFA's intention to spread football (soccer) around South Africa during the Confederations Cup and upcoming World Cup is leading teams and fans to some far-flung venues.

While Johannesburg and Cape Town may well be large, internationally recognized cities, the number of fans arriving for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa who have heard of Polokwane or Rustenburg is likely to be far smaller.

But at the 2009 Confederations Cup, as will be the case at the World Cup next year, football is being played in some remote venues as part of FIFA's plan to spread the tournament out around all of South Africa's nine provinces.

While transport to and lodging in the more rural areas is likely to be a major headache for fans next year, the teams are saying that they enjoy the opportunity to get away from the congestion of South Africa's urban areas, and relax in the countryside.

Michael Kammarman, the press officer for the United States team, says the move from urban Pretoria to rural Rustenburg for the last match of group play helped the team's mentality.

"To be in Rustenburg was a great opportunity in the right moment for the team to be in the setting that was very scenic and very peaceful," he said. "And I think after the two difficult games it was a great opportunity for the team to relax and refocus, and I think that played some part in the result against Egypt."

In Rustenburg, the team stayed in a lodge on the Pilanesburg game reserve several dozen kilometers from the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. The stadium is a bit of an anomaly, situated in the countryside in the village of Phokeng, just outside Rustenburg, with a view of sweeping hills from the recently refurbished stands.

The Americans say they thoroughly enjoyed their stay on the spacious reserve, compared to the relatively cramped quarters they had occupied in Pretoria the previous week. After losing their first two matches, the Americans defeated Egypt convincingly in the game at Royal Bafokeng, and advanced to the semifinals.

The day after the win the team was able to forget football for a moment and enjoy the local ambience, Kammarman says.

"As a reward they were able the next day to go out on a safari and enjoy a little bit of South Africa," he said.

Rustenburg, the capital of Northwest Province, is a small town of about three hundred thousand occupants. Fans attending next year's World Cup are expected to make use of accommodation in the nearby resort of Sun City. Whether fans will take to the unusual venues remains to be seen, but the American team members at least are clearly enjoying their chance to see a bit of wild Africa, Kammarman says.

"You don't normally stay in a place where you are thirty feet away from elephants," he said.

The 2009 Confederation Cup concludes this week. The USA defeated Spain Wednesday to win a spot in the final.