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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK

US fans declare 'victory'

By Kevin Anderson
BBC News Online Washington Correspondent

US football fans in Washington were still chanting "USA! USA!" long after their team's 1-0 loss to Germany.

" We've already won. If they [Germany] lost, they couldn't go back to Germany. The Americans can come home here and we'll throw them a parade "
US fan

More than 4,000 fans came to RFK Stadium to watch the match on the stadium's giant screen.

The team had already surpassed expectations and turned in the best performance by a US side in the World Cup for more than 70 years.

As coach Bruce Arena said, the team had nothing to lose, and talking to US fans after the match, it was as if their side had won.

A spark for football

The US side was ranked 13th going into the World Cup, but it has been a tournament of surprises and some of the favourites went out early.

In France 98, the US finished last in the field of 32 as the team imploded on the field and bickered off of it.

But, Sam's Army, the American fans, definitely feel the momentum is with them and with the sport, which has long lived in the shadow of baseball and American football.

"In this World Cup, there's a spark," said Christian, who sported a soccer ball on his head and a US flag draped over his shoulders.

"Imagine us in 20 years," he crowed.

"20 years? Try four," his friend Barry Meyer corrected him.

"Donovan, Beasley, Mathis, Wolff," Barry shouted, ticking off young stars that may shine for the US in the next World Cup.

The result against Germany was not important to them. The US had its best run in 72 years, when the US last made it through the quarterfinals.

And instead of buckling before the heavily favoured Germans, the US stood toe-to-toe with the three-time champions.

"We've already won. If they lost, they couldn't go back to Germany. The Americans can come home here and we'll throw them a parade," Christian said.

"No one in the world expected this," Barry said, with Christian shouting, "More to come! More to come!"

Imported enthusiasm

Washington likes to think of itself not only as the nation's political capital but also as the soccer capital.

The city is home two professional teams, men's side DC United and women's team the Washington Freedom, which stars the nation's first lady of football, Mia Hamm.

The team draws fans from the thousands of young players in the Washington area as well sizeable populations of immigrants from Central and South American countries including El Salvador and Ecuador.

Mixed in amongst chants of "Go USA" was its Spanish variant "Vamos USA."

Jeff Albert has been following soccer since he was eight or nine years old. He grew up playing the sport in New York.

Millions of young people in the US play football but the sport has so far to catch on in a way that challenges established sports like baseball and basketball.

He watched France 98 in the Middle East.

"Much of the rest of the world stands still during the month of the World Cup. The United States is probably one of the only places globally where that is not the case," Jeff said.

But he said, "The US is a country of immigrants", and immigrants from Africa, South America and Europe have brought their passion for the sport to the US.

"I'm happy to see how many people turned out to see this game early in the morning and how many folks were out in the middle of the night last night to see an excellent game between Brazil and England," he added.

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