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US World Cup Festival Draws Thousands to Washington Park, Again


American passion for World Cup football was on full display in Washington as several thousand fans flocked to a popular neighborhood to watch the U.S. national team take on Germany.

Thursday's fan fest in Dupont Circle Park drew a largely pro-U.S. crowd of longtime football enthusiasts along with relative newcomers to the art of cheering for a football team on a mass scale.

Many of the American newcomers joined the experienced fans in dressing appropriately for the occasion, wearing U.S. national team jerseys or other types of American flag-themed apparel.

"I think it's a great display of patriotism," said Eric Miller, from neighboring Virginia. "It makes me proud to be an American."

For his girlfriend, Briana Havrialesky of Maryland, it was a new experience. "I've never done something like this for a sporting event," she said. "But soccer is really exciting at this time of year, and it doesn't get any better than the World Cup."

German diplomats' key role

The German Embassy in Washington hosted the event, providing the funds to set up two big screens, side by side, to broadcast the first round match live and free for the pubic.

Embassy officials worked with local nonprofit group Dupont Festival to source the equipment and secure the necessary permits from world football governing body FIFA and the U.S. National Park Service, which manages the park.

The organizers built on the success of Washington's first major World Cup fan fest which drew a similarly large crowd in 2010.

Back then, a group of neighborhood activists developed a city-wide coalition to broadcast three first-round matches from South Africa, including USA versus England, on two big screens at opposite ends of the same park.

German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig said the goal of this year's event was to emulate the football festivals that attract huge crowds in Germany.

"In our country, soccer is clearly number one, while here in the United States, it is one sport among others," Wittig said. "I know it's very big in American schools, but it's now on the national radar as well, and the better the U.S. team performs in the World Cup, the more the sport's popularity will rise in the United States."

US, German fans revel in rivalry

American fan Frank Vasquez, who sported a Captain America super-hero outfit, said he believes further World Cup progress for the United States will resonate around the world.

"It will mean that we are better than other countries not only in our sports, but in their sports as well," Vasquez said.

Hundreds of Germany supporters also made their presence felt in the park as their team took the lead in the 55th minute. Many waved the black, red and gold national flag and responded to chants of "USA, USA!" with "Deutschland, Deutschland!" in a friendly competition with the Americans surrounding them.

Jutta Uhl of Wiesbaden, Germany said she had fun, but wished the screens could have been bigger to provide a better view.

Her husband Ralph also noted one key difference with football viewing parties back home.

"In Germany, we can drink beer!" he said. Fans at the Washington event were prohibited from consuming alcohol due to National Park Service regulations.

The match ended in a 1-0 victory for Germany, as the world's number-two ranked team repeatedly frustrated American attempts to score an equalizer.

Looking on the bright side

But there was little disappointment among the U.S. fans in Dupont Circle, as they learned that their team would be joining Germany in the World Cup's coveted knockout stage thanks to Portugal's defeat of Ghana in a simultaneous match.

After the final whistle, 21-year-old German fan Sabrina Sandru had some encouragement for her American counterparts.

"Just come out and support your team and they will do better!" she said.

"Cheer more, that's a good tip!" added her German friend, Angela.

With other U.S. cities such as Chicago and New York also hosting World Cup fan fests, such events may finally become an American tradition.

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