RUSTENBURG, June 13 – South African police passed their first major security test of the World Cup on Saturday as potential flashpoint matches involving Argentina and England went off peacefully.After a dozen suspected hooligans were arrested at Johannesburg airport, police staged a show of strength at Argentina’s match against Nigeria in the same city and England versus the United States in northwestern Rustenburg.
England’s supporters reacted with dismay after a howler by their goalkeeper Robert Green enabled their opponents to snatch a 1-1 draw but there was no immediate reports of unrest in the stadium or fan parks outside.
The Argentinian fans had more reason to celebrate as their team ran out 1-0 winners against Nigeria.
Both matches involved major security operations with the Argentina-Nigeria match taking place next to a Johannesburg neighbourhood notorious for gangland crime and with a large expatriate Nigerian community.
As large numbers of reinforcements, including police motorbike squads, patrolled the streets around Ellis Park, helicopters flew overhead.
In Rustenburg, security was even tighter as US Vice President Joe Biden attended the game. Fans had to queue for up to an hour to get past metal detectors and have their bags searched as police helicopters flew overhead.
Large numbers of local and national police patrolled the streets ahead of a match that has been deemed to have a high terror risk rating, along with sniffer dogs and teams who swept the stadium for bombs.
"We all know that the US, the UK are very much a priority … That’s not to say that we have traced any specific risk, but one never wants to take anything for granted," national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer told AFP.
British police were also on hand to help their South African counterparts spot any potential troublemakers.
While English fans have a history of violence, Andy Holt, head of the British police contingent dispatched to Rustenburg, said that reputation was now outdated. "There has been a wholesale change," said Holt.
South Africa has been working closely with other national police forces to prevent any possible outbreak of hooliganism.
Argentina handed over a blacklist of 800 fans barred from attending, while Britain required 3,200 known hooligans to surrender their passports during the tournament.
"We don’t really view hooliganism as a very big risk because of all the measures we have in place and the good cooperation with various countries," de Beer said.
The area around Ellis Park emptied quickly after the match while dejected England fans also made a rapid exit from the Rustenburg stadium, many in stony silence.
The American fans were in better voice, chanting "U.S.A" as they walked down the ramp. Towards the end of the game as they sniffed the possibility of a shock win, they chanted Barack Obama’s campaign trail mantra "Yes We Can."
"It was so dismal I don’t really know if I have anything to say. With goalkeeping mistakes like that it’s not really World Cup standard," said England supporter Andy Lowe.
So far the only real organisational problems have been with public transport, with traffic jams and delayed trains proving a headache for the 85,000 fans who attended Friday’s opening match at Johannesburg’s Soccer City.
South Africans largely ignored the traffic hassles, overjoyed with their 1-1 draw with Mexico.
"Respect! That’s what we earned yesterday," The Star newspaper said on its front page.
South Africa has fended off worries about its readiness for the tournament ever since it was named the host six years ago.
All the stadiums and major projects like new highways and rail lines have been completed on time, although crime is still a worry.