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American Fans Catch Football Fever Via World Cup

American football (soccer) fans decked out in red, white and blue flocked to stadiums and giant TV screens on Tuesday to cheer their national team in a World Cup clash with Belgium that could be the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history.

Strong performances by the U.S. team in Brazil have ignited passions in a country not known for its love of soccer. Though the Americans were underdogs in the match in Salvador's Fonte Nova arena, they went 0-0 for the first 90 minutes, losing 2-1 in extra time. And they gained plenty of new fans.

Free viewing parties were held from coast to coast, with fans crammed into sports bars and restaurants.

Fans watch the United States take on Belgium in their World Cup round of 16 match, at an event in Seattle, Washington, July 1, 2014.
Fans watch the United States take on Belgium in their World Cup round of 16 match, at an event in Seattle, Washington, July 1, 2014.

Showing the spread of World Cup fever in areas obsessed with a different sort of football, some 2,000 fans lined up an hour early at the home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys - the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas - to watch on one of the world's biggest video screens.

"This is the way this game should be watched. We need a big screen for a big game,'' said Evan Grant, 23, who had an American flag draped over his shoulders and a blue Mohawk with red and white stripes painted on his head.

A massive crowd, wearing red, white and blue from head to toe, chanted, "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Watch related video report by VOA's Tala Hadavi

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In Illinois, thousands also watched from Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, and many of them warmed up for the game at tailgate parties in the stadium's parking lot.

Karl Epson, 25, and his girlfriend, Becky Oliver, 23, said they had driven a couple of hours from near Bloomington, Illinois, to be part of history.

“I really think we have a chance this time, we have finally arrived,'' said Epson, who was wearing a U.S. team shirt. "... I've waited my whole life for this moment. It's so awesome to finally be here.''

Nationwide gatherings

U.S. captain Clint Dempsey's major league soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, also called supporters to a viewing party at the city's CenturyLink field.

President Barack Obama led a Team USA cheer squad that includes America's biggest sports stars and celebrities.

Hundreds gathered in New York's Bryant Park. Elliot Hollander, 17, a high school soccer player from Weston, Connecticut, wore an American flag headband.

"Being able to watch my country do well in the World Cup is not something you get to see all the time, so it's really something to cheer about,'' Hollander said.

The official U.S. soccer Twitter account, ussoccer, advised fans to drink tea "so your vocal chords are 100 percent gameday ready,'' and to practice chants in the mirror.

It also encouraged them to clear their afternoon schedules while not forgetting to leave an out-of-the-office message on their email, and to paint their faces red, white and blue.

At the Campus Lounge bar in Denver, owner and former NHL Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey player Jim Wiste said that, for the first time, he had a home team to root for in soccer. Everyone in the bar stood for the U.S. national anthem before kickoff.

"I've seen a lot of sports events in a lot of places, and I've never seen anything like that,'' Wiste said. "It's good for the community.''

Belgium's win sets up a World Cup quarter-final clash with Argentina, and no doubt plenty of Americans will tune in.

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