World Cup: Does US really have the most fans in Brazil?

US fans in Manaus at the Portugal game

The country where the most World Cup match tickets were bought, outside Brazil, was the US. Why, asks Tom Geoghegan.

Nearly 200,000 match tickets were bought in the US, which comes as some surprise given that "soccer" is still way behind US sports in popularity. The next biggest market was Argentina, a long way behind, followed by Germany, England and Colombia, according to Fifa.

The number of US fans travelling overseas isn't surprising to Christopher Harris, editor and publisher of WorldSoccerTalk.com. "US Soccer has done a fantastic job marketing to the audience, who have disposable income, love sports and don't mind spending thousands of dollars to support their country."

Soccer is a perfect embodiment of American patriotism, he says, with very few US sports having a national sports team that can compete with the best in the world.

A major reason for the recent increase in travelling fans is the growing popularity of the American Outlaws supporters group, says Harris, which has 135 chapters nationwide and flew three charter planes to Brazil. There, they have outnumbered most other fans, inside and outside the stadiums. Not long ago, it was hard to find the USA football shirt in shops, now they're ubiquitous in Brazil. One long-time USA fan, Jason Burak, told Slate the transformation has made him well up.

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At the scene - Franz Strasser, BBC News, Rio
US fans in Manaus at the Portugal game

The US fans are here, they are visible and so loud that they draw puzzled looks from locals and other tourists alike.

On non-game days, you will hear the American accents in restaurants up and down Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, but when the US team plays, the streets are filled with stars-and-stripe Speedos, red and blue Mohicans and continuous chants of "U S A! U S A!"

In the viewing areas, when Spain or Netherlands play, the atmosphere is joyous and relaxed, but when Klinsmann's team kicks off, thousands of US fans fill the beach-side viewing party and it's more like a sold-out rock concert.

Hailing from all over the US, some boast "soccer" knowledge rivalling the post-game analysts, others are just here "to have fun". Rio has noticed, the Americans are in town. Argentina and Chile fans are also highly visible but the number of US fans could surpass even them.

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Whether they are the biggest group is hard to say as so many fans travel without tickets. In Germany in 2006, it was widely believed that England fans formed the largest horde, with police estimating that 70,000 made the trip. There's also the likelihood that many of the tickets bought in the US were by fans of other countries, says ESPN football commentator Allen Hopkins. "We are a melting pot and although fans will identify as Americans, they may go to Brazil to support Mexico or Costa Rica and support the US on a secondary basis."

But there's little doubt that football has become "cool", says Hopkins, and Brazil has a particular allure for Americans, as the "Mecca" of football and a great place to party.

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Top 10 ticket buyers

1. Brazil - 1,363,179

2. US - 196,838

3. Argentina - 61,021

4. Germany - 58,778

5. England - 57,917

6. Colombia - 54,477

7. Australia - 52,289

8. Chile - 38,638

9. France - 34,865

10. Mexico - 33,694

Source: Fifa

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