They may be wrapped up in winter wear, but fans of the South American quartet within touching distance of glory have brought a dash of Latin colour to the first football World Cup on African soil.
While five-time winners Brazil and Diego Maradona’s Argentina were expected to put up a strong show, surprise packages Paraguay and Uruguay have ensured four South American teams are now in the quarter-finals which begin Friday.
South Americans may not have the same spending power as fans of the United States, England and Japan, but their presence is a welcome boost for South Africa’s tourism industry which has deliberately targeted the region.
“It’s colder than what we are normally used to but we came prepared,” said Paraguay fan Gabriel Hamuy who has been travelling the length and breadth of the country with his extended family of 15 for the last three weeks.
“Other than that South Africa exceeded all my expectations, it is a beautiful country,” added Hamuy who hails from the capital Asuncion.
Hamuy said up to 3,000 supporters had flown from Paraguay, helping to fill out hotels in venues ranging from the tourist hotbed of Cape Town to the northern backwater of Polokwane.
But despite all the expense incurred, he said it had all been worth it as he prepared for the team’s showdown with Spain in Johannesburg on Saturday.
“It felt like Christmas morning when we qualified and I now believe we can make it to the finals … It costs nothing to dream.”
Hamuy says he has been overwhelmed by the generosity of his guests, music to the ears of the country’s tourist industry.
Robert Tooley, head of tourism in northern Limpopo province which includes Polokwane, said fans from Latin American teams such as Argentina, Mexico and Paraguay had brought a real party atmosphere during the first round.
“It was a surprise, we didn’t expect that many of them. They booked the Pietersburg golf club and every accommodation establishment was fully booked,” Tooley told AFP.
“Those guys know how to party… The Argentinians also took over this city. Their party started at the stadium.”
Thandiwe January-McLean, chief executive of South African Tourism, put part of the surprising turnout down to aggressive marketing in Latin America.
“Latin America — Brazil and Mexico specifically I would state — are very high on our agenda, and we have seen a strengthening in terms of numbers from those countries,” he told AFP.
Nicolas Peralta, from the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, is another visitor from one of the region’s smaller countries who has been won over by South Africa after being taken aback by its sheer size.
“South Africa is much bigger than my country… Here I have had to get used to driving long distances,” he said.
“We drove about 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) from Pretoria to Cape Town. Back home, the longest drive is about 500 kilometres from north to south.”
Apart from the marathon drives, Peralta said he and his three fellow travellers had been lapping up the local culture.
“We want to visit various museums and do cultural tours to learn more about the history of the country. We started with the apartheid museum” in Johannesburg, he said
The high demand has led South African Airways to introduce extra services, including four more weekly flights to Sao Paolo, said spokesman Fani Zulu.
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