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Plugged into the World Cup<br> From South Africa to Western New York, the beautiful game brings fans together

Most soccer fans in Buffalo will be enjoying the World Cup from their couch, out at a bar or online. Maggie Wydysh will be witnessing the action from Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, South Africa.

Wydysh, a junior at the University of Notre Dame and a Buffalo native, is studying in Johannesburg, South Africa, this summer.

With all the tourists in town, the games are constantly on and many public places have put in screens so the games can be watched. Wydysh usually watches the games at local college bars, but she also managed to get tickets to see the Netherlands play on June 24.

No matter what, no one misses Bafana Bafana, the South African team's term of endearment.

"I'm volunteering at a center for homeless recovering alcoholics, and they stop what they're doing to make a brai [barbecue] and watch the game at a nearby park that shows it on a huge screen," Wydysh said.

Nothing beats being there, but what about those of us back on the home front in Western New York?

Due to the time difference, the majority of games are broadcast in the morning or early afternoon in the U.S. ESPN's GameCast allows soccer fans to follow their favorite team online, convenient for those stuck at work. GameCast features a game timeline, an interactive shot chart, and video clips of major plays.

ESPN analysts also provide written commentary about game play, prominent players, and the World Cup in general. During the Spain-Switzerland game June 16, Chris Jones wrote about the vuvuzelas.

"I know they're annoying on TV, but sitting in the stadium, they just kind of fade into the background. Of course, next to my screaming kids, they're like a lullaby," Jones said.

For those interested in going out to watch the World Cup, the games are being shown at many local bars and restaurants. Here are a few that have attracted the soccer crowd:

*Caffe Aroma, 957 Elmwood Ave.;

*Papa Jake's, 1672 Elmwood Ave.;

*Gecko's Bar and Grille, 1464 Hertel Ave.;

*Tony Rome's, 1537 Union Road, West Seneca;

*Buffalo Sports Garden, 2945 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park;

*Shenanigan's Irish Pub, 1009 Niagara Falls Blvd.; Amherst;

*Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ont., shows the games and takes bets.

Abben Westby, the owner of Shenanigan's, said they had about 250 people for the U.S.-England game. They have decorated the bar with signs to give it more of a soccer flair.

"We are trying to make it the home bar for the World Cup," Westby said.

Papa Jake's teamed up with FC Buffalo to serve up steak and eggs for the U.S.-Slovenia match Friday. "I know people who took off work to watch the game. You only get one chance every four years," FC Buffalo co-owner Ryan Knapp said.

Ryan Jones is new to the game of soccer, so he decided to head to Papa Jake's to see what all the hype was about.

"I didn't expect so many people on a Friday morning. I have to admit it's kind of fun," Jones said. He estimated there were as many people in the bar for the U.S. soccer game as there were for the U.S.-Canada Olympic hockey gold medal game.

Caffe Aroma had a line out the door for coffee and soccer fans alike. Some fans came specifically for the soccer and others came for the coffee and ended up staying for the game.

Hicham Mihab, a Morocco native who moved to Buffalo nine years ago, heard Caffe Aroma was showing the games and decided to check it out.

"I like the atmosphere here. People can sit down and enjoy the game without the drinking," Mihab said.

The U.S. faces Algeria at 10 a.m. Wednesday for a chance to advance to the round of 16. With a win, the team will play again this weekend.

Some locations are looking to feature food specials for future U.S. games, but plans won't be finalized until the team's fate is known and the weekend game schedule is finalized.

Lastly, there is always the living room couch. ESPN's family of networks will broadcast every game.

e-mail: abremer@buffnews.com

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