JOHANNESBURG – The U.S. World Cup team arrived in Johannesburg on Monday following a 17-hour flight and was greeted by the same visible security presence that was on hand for the arrival for other countries.
Armed special task-force members, dressed in dark blue uniforms, surrounded the South African Airways plane at the O.R. Tambo airport as the team arrived on a cool, overcast afternoon.
After leading his team off the plane, coach Bob Bradley immediately picked out the opening game against England on June 12 as a chance to make an impression on the tournament.
“There has been a lot of attention on our first game with England,” Bradley said. “It’s a great opportunity for us.
“But we certainly know that Slovenia and Algeria are excellent teams. It will be a tough group and we are looking forward to it.”
Plainclothes security officials, wearing earpieces and sunglasses, also patrolled the arrivals facility – set aside for World Cup teams – where the Americans cleared immigration.
The U.S. should be familiar with its surroundings after it made an impressive showing in the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year. Bradley’s team reached the final and played in Rustenburg, Pretoria and Johannesburg at the same venues it will visit in the group stages.
“We’re very fortunate that we have had experience here,” Bradley said on the airport tarmac. “The people here in South Africa have always treated us so well so in that regard, it’s a comfortable feeling to be back for the World Cup.
“We are very excited. … The travel went really well and the team is looking to get started with our work here.”
Dressed in blue-and-red team tracksuits, the U.S. players boarded a bus for the 25-minute drive up to their base at the Irene Country Lodge, a luxurious, rural-style hotel in a village between Johannesburg and the capital city Pretoria.
The lodge is billed as “a haven of peace and tranquility in the hub of South Africa’s economic heartland.”
The group was greeted by dancing and singing staff members on its arrival at the hotel. Police then led sniffer dogs through the rooms in a final security sweep before the players were allowed in.
A colorful vuvuzela – the plastic trumpet which is set to be a constant feature at the World Cup – was left in each player’s room as a welcome gift.
The hotel is where the U.S. will begin to get used to the cool, early winter conditions ahead of a final warmup match against Australia on Saturday.
“I think the weather here is great for football,” Bradley said. “It’s going to mean that the games are played at a good tempo. We have enough time between now and June 12 to acclimatize so I think, on that end, it’s going to be a great World Cup.”