KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa (AFP) - As the sun set over the savannah at Kruger National Park, a football fan unfurled a banner from the side of an open-air safari truck.
The guided tour was about to set out in search of Africa's "big five" -- lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and Cape buffalo -- and the Argentina fan seized the moment to convey a message to the world, or any animals that might be watching.
"Whatever happens, no matter what," the banner said. It showed a picture of Argentina coach Diego Maradona lifting the World Cup -- a dream soon killed by Germany as they sank their teeth into the Albicelestes in their quarter-final Saturday.
Kruger, one of the top safari destinations in Africa, has received massive herds of football fans as South Africa hosts the World Cup.
The park is always booked to capacity in June and July -- winter months in South Africa and the best time for seeing game, since the vegetation grows thinner and animals become easier to spot.
But South Africa's national parks have seen record demand this year as hundreds of thousands of World Cup visitors descend on the country.
Kruger, which booked its 22 camps to capacity a year in advance, decided in June to allow more day-visitors in order to accommodate the football crowd, raising the number of daily entries permitted at each of its 10 gates by 10 percent, to between 330 and 825 visitors.
It also set up big-screen viewing areas inside the park where visitors can catch the carnage on the field before setting off to see the South African savannah's food chain in action.
Brendon Pitt, an Australian fan whose team played the opening-round zebra to Group D lions Germany and Ghana, said the chance to go on safari had made his World Cup trip worthwhile.
"I've always wanted to go on safari, ever since I was a little kid, so to be able to do that and come for the World Cup is pretty spectacular," he told AFP.
His compatriot Matthew Craze said the safari experience had more than made up for the Socceroos' lacklustre performance.
"The soccer's just an excuse to come here," he said, as he and three friends set out in search of lions and leopards in a giant Land Rover that had an Australian flag draped out the window.
"We already got to see a rhino and giraffes and zebras and all that. It was unreal," said his friend Luke McInnes.
"We nearly hit the rhino in our car to be honest. Coming around the corner and there it was about two metres away," said Craze.
"Our car's pretty tough, but I don't know if it's that tough. That thing was a tank," said McInnes.
Tourism officials say South Africa's wildlife has been one of the big draws of the tournament, helping bring 500,000 international visitors despite the global economic downturn.
Those numbers have contributed to making this World Cup the second-best-attended ever, behind only the United States in 1994.
"This is the best time to come to South Africa for a safari experience, because in June-July you get the best sightings," said Roshene Singh, chief marketing officer with government tourism agency South Africa Tourism.
"It is one of our strong points as a country, it is what we are known for."
At a viewing area near Kruger's main lodge, fans from Argentina, China, Italy, Portugal and South Africa gathered to watch a game, as a mock World Cup match between "Australia" and "New Zealand" unfolded on a nearby lawn.
Nino Colombatti, an Italian winemaker based in Los Angeles, said the soccer-safari experience had been one of the most memorable of the World Cup.
"I took the pictures myself. It's not that I just bought it in the store. That will be a memory for me and something to show my children that I was there, that I actually saw these animals," Colombatti told AFP.
"It's something that I will take with me to the ground," he said.
|Neymar knows nothing of Man United interest|
|Ibisevic leaves Stuttgart for Hertha|
|International break unwelcome for Mourinho|
|Muto a ´perfect fit´ for Mainz|
|Lampard pledges NYC commitment|
|Van Gaal: I listen to Rooney|
|MLS Review: Whitecaps falter, Eastern Conference heats up|
|´I think a yellow would have been harsh´ - Noble baffled by his red card|
|Rodriguez´s quality ´unquestionable´ - Benitez|
|Abdennour chooses Valencia|
|Giovinco to fly to Italy despite injury|
|La Liga Review: Real Madrid, Celta notch big wins|
|Mihajlovic: I feel like I lost|
|Real Madrid 5 Real Betis 0: Rodriguez scores twice in Benitez´s first Bernabeu win|
|Balotelli has a lot of work to do, declares Bacca|
|Luis Enrique delighted with Vermaelen´s form|
|Bundesliga Review: Leverkusen no match for Muller-inspired Bayern, Frankfurt thump Stuttgart|
|Milan 2 Empoli 1: Adriano header seals first league win for Mihajlovic|
|Ligue 1 Review: Fekir hat-trick inspires Lyon, Reims take Lorient apart|
|Barcelona 1 Malaga 0: Vermaelen rewards patient champions|
|Muller denies Van Gaal contact|
|Pochettino not concerned about goalless Kane|
|Martinez hails ´immense´ Stones|
|Flores not concerned by lack of Watford goals|
|Evans completes West Brom switch|
|Howe remains upbeat despite concerning injuries|
|Rash Cattermole frustrating Advocaat|
|Bayern Munich 3 Bayer Leverkusen 0: Muller marks 200th appearance in style|
|Tottenham 0 Everton 0: Howard keeps hosts at bay|
|Sako gives Palace new dimension - Pardew|
|Rodgers rues self-inflicted Liverpool defeat|
|Villa were robbed during Sunderland draw, blasts Sherwood|
|Football League Review: Brighton move top, Orient maintain winning start|
|I wish I had a fourth substitute, says Chelsea boss Mourinho|
|Pulis hails West Brom match-winner Rondon|
|´Gladiator´ spirit is more important than anything - Ranieri|
|Bilic defends ´park the bus´ tactics after Anfield win|
|Pellegrini quiet on De Bruyne after record-breaking win|
|Hughes fumes at Stoke dismissals after West Brom loss|
|Mourinho: Chelsea did not deserve Palace defeat|
|Scottish Premiership Review: Celtic return to the summit as Hearts suffer surprise defeat|
|Liverpool 0 West Ham 3: Defensive woes return for Rodgers´ men|
|Manchester City 2 Watford 0: Sterling opens account as City become record breakers|
|Bournemouth 1 Leicester City 1: Vardy rescues a point|
|Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2: Late Ward winner seals dramatic victory|
|Stoke City 0 West Brom 1: Rondon gives Pulis win over nine-man hosts|
|Aston Villa 2 Sunderland 2: M´Vila and Lens secure hard-fought point|
|Blackett moves to Celtic on loan|
|McClaren laments ´harsh´ Mitrovic red|
|Wenger: Arsenal ´cautious´ in Newcastle win|
|Sevilla can mirror Atletico strengths - Simeone|
|Ibrahimovic and Di Maria in PSG squad for Monaco clash|
|Newcastle United 0 Arsenal 1: Mitrovic off as Coloccini own goal settles it|
|Barca´s Suarez ends Sevilla loan to make Villarreal switch|
|Allegri confirms imminent Coman departure|
|Garcia demands more ahead of Juve clash|
|Knee injury sidelines Ozil|
|Dortmund boost defence with Mainz´s Park|
|Ruddy hoping to impress Hodgson|
|Wolfsburg proved there is life after De Bruyne - Hecking|
|Van Gaal unsure if Romero will replace De Gea long-term|
|Dzeko wants Totti partnership at Roma|
|No excuses for City - Pellegrini|
|San Jose Earthquakes 1 LA Galaxy 0: Salinas´ header levels Cali Clasico tally|
|Koeman plays down expectations|
|Stuttgart´s Langerak suffers surgery setback|
|Rodgers hails Milner´s leadership, mentality|
|Conte hints at Giovinco recall, doesn´t rule out Balotelli|
|Martinez slams Chelsea over Stones pursuit|
|Leverkusen are title contenders - Guardiola|
|Babel in sexism controversy|
|Pellegrini prepared to wait for Otamendi|
|Sevilla v Atletico Madrid: Llorente hoping to repay faith|
|Veloso back for Portugal|
|Kranevitter joins Atletico on five-year deal|
|Maiga leaves West Ham for Al Nassr|
|Blackburn Rovers 0 Bolton Wanderers 0: Lancashire derby ends in stalemate|
|Coutinho, Rafinha called into Brazil squad|
|Guingamp 2 Marseille 0: Privat and Benezet inflict more misery on visitors|
|Wolfsburg 3 Schalke 0: Hosts canter to victory without De Bruyne|
|Villarreal 3 Espanyol 1: Soldado inspires turnaround|
|Carpi v Inter: Mancini demands full focus|
|De Bruyne set to complete City move, reveals Allofs|
|Roma v Juventus: Champions seek to bounce back|
|Motta pens new PSG deal|
|Settled Bale in the hunt for more titles at Real|
|Blind hands Robben Netherlands armband|
|Rodriguez joins Everton from River Plate Montevideo|
|Bolivia appoint Baldivieso|
|Southampton v Norwich City: Neil holds south-coast club up as inspiration|
|Monaco v Paris Saint-Germain: Rabiot wants champions to send a message|
|Barca face tough group - Luis Enrique|
|Swansea City v Manchester United: Van Gaal celebrates 50th game in charge|
|Herrera pushing for United start, says Van Gaal|
|Borussia Dortmund v Hertha Berlin: Tuchel puts perfect record on the line|
|Michu still not part of my plans if he stays – Monk|
|Hughes not expecting late transfer deals at Stoke|
|FIFA or bust in Platini´s presidency bid|
|Cuadrado struggles to explain Chelsea snub|
|Atletico seal Borre deal|
|Schalke loan Hojbjerg from Bayern|
|Sissoko in contention to face Arsenal|
|Advocaat confident of more signings, but De Guzman not among them|
|Berahino ´not just a lump of meat´ - Pulis|
|Ajax set to face Champions League quality - Van der Sar|
|Pellegrini quiet on intense De Bruyne speculation|
|Van Persie and Nani offer cause for Celtic excitement - Hawthorn|
|Lopes seals Monaco switch|
|Mourinho silent on Stones saga|
|Milan snap up Kucka|
|Can earns first Germany call-up|
|Dortmund get kind draw, Sousa takes Fiorentina back to Basel|
|Costa and Mata return for Spain qualifiers, De Gea gets the nod|
|Rodriguez omission not personal - Benitez|
|Allofs frustrated by Premier League´s financial muscle|
|Sherwood hopeful over Traore fitness|
|Leverkusen sign Kampl from Dortmund|
|Toivonen joins Sunderland on loan from Rennes|
|Markovic has Liverpool future, says Rodgers|
|Martinez insists Stones in perfect environment at Everton|
|Tottenham wrap up Son deal|
|Schmeichel wants Real target De Gea to re-sign with United|
|Cech is one of the best - Cudicini|
|Rodwell hoping for more goals|
|Thauvin needs time to settle at Newcastle – Haidara|
|Kennedy takes blame for Celtic´s loss, stands by zonal marking|
|CONCACAF Champions League Review: Comunicaciones, Motagua off the mark|
|Rooney´s contribution undervalued - Schmeichel|
|Jedinak ruled out as Socceroos make changes|
|Sampdoria not a ´discount store´ - president Ferrero|
|Montolivo: No issue with Mihajlovic|
|Gilardino signs for Palermo|
|Chelsea target ´China´s Sergio Ramos´|
|Striker search like looking for love - Pochettino|
|Hecking ´sick´ of De Bruyne talk|
|Deschamps calls up Martial, leaves out Sakho|
|´The only thing they can is long balls´ - Midtjylland´s skipper slams Southampton|
|UEFA Europa League Review: Reus leads Dortmund rout, AZ complete late comeback|
|Messi should win Ballon d´Or - Bartomeu|
|Koeman rues refereeing decisions after Europa League defeat|