Can the 2010 World Cup change U.S. views on Africa and Soccer?

When the U.S. World Cup team arrived in Johannesburg on Monday, the historic moment had special significance for several of the team’s African-American players.

“To represent America means a lot to me, especially since it’s my second time around,” defender Oguchi Onyewu said. “On top of that, me being Nigerian, it’s also a special moment to take part in history since this is the first time the World Cup is being played on African soil.”

Onyewu grew up in Maryland, but his parents emigrated from Nigeria in the 1970s. His given name is “Oguchialu,” which means “God fights for me.”

Midfielder Maurice Edu, whose parents also emigrated from Nigeria, thinks the World Cup, the world’s most watched sporting event, can have an impact far beyond the field of play.

“Given the social status and the economy there, it could really do a lot in terms of boosting the country and portraying the country in a positive light. It would be great for all 23 players because we can look back at that and say we were part of something special,” said Edu, who was raised in Fontana, Calif.

Danny Jordaan, the chief executive officer of the 2010 World Cup organizing committee, was a member of parliament under Nelson Mandela when the country’s system of racial segregation ended 16 years ago. He would like the world to see that the continent is about more than what is usually portrayed.

“To move from the idea that the continent is about disease, about desperation, about war, about famine. The other side of the story never gets told,” Jordaan said during a recent interview in New York. “Up to 1990, if you say you’re from South Africa, people say, ‘Oh, apartheid.’ Apartheid was a strong brand. Now that apartheid is gone, what is it that people will say about the country?”

Now, when people say South Africa, Jordaan hopes they will think of a new brand, the World Cup.

Jordaan also hopes the World Cup will encourage more African-American kids to play the game. In April, Jordaan visited a largely African-American school in Harlem and said he told the students, “The only Africans in this world who are not playing soccer are the African Americans, so if you want to be true Africans, you must play the sport of Africa.”

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