Showtime South Africa!

2010-06-11 00:00

AFTER six years’ wait and hard work South Africans will have to pinch themselves today as the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup finally kicks off with the game between Bafana Bafana and Mexico at Soccer City.

South Africa’s 10 stadiums, five new and five revamped, have been completed on time and a cumulative television audience of 26 billion will tune in from today, through 62 more games until the final at Soccer City on June 11, to watch the first Soccer World Cup on African soil.

An opening ceremony featuring 1 581 dancers, musicians and performers at 2 pm will be followed by the opening game at 4 pm. South Africans are set to be enthralled as they follow the fortunes of Bafana, riding the tsunami of support that has washed over the country in the past three months.

With all 84 490 tickets sold, a capacity crowd will pack Soccer City, while 64 100 will fill Cape Town Stadium tonight for the second game of the tournament between France and Uruguay at 8.30 pm.

Fifa media officer Wolfgang Eichler said 15 000 media have been accredited for the tournament and by yesterday 11 000 had arrived, while 97% of tickets available to the public have been sold, comparable to Germany in 2006.

The VVIPs for the opening are United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, former presidents Thabo Mbeki and F.W. de Klerk, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Prince Albert of Monaco, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Naomi Campbell.

LOC communications chief Rich Mkhondo said President Zuma has invited the 54 heads of state of members of the African Union, and the LOC hopes the majority will attend.

On whether former president Nelson Mandela will attend the game, Mkhondo said a definite decision will only be made today.

“President Zuma did say that the former president has got an open invitation to attend the game.

“Two days ago his [Mandela’s] family also said he wants to attend and it will depend on how he is feeling on that day … he will decide tomorrow [this] morning whether he attends or not.”

Bafana’s friendly warm-up games have been played to sell-out crowds and 50 000 fans swarmed into Sandton on Wednesday for a parade by the national team.

Asked if this has been a distraction to the team, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira replied: “We were expecting to have calmness and more focus on the game. But also I can understand.

“In this country the football has been sleeping for many years. And then suddenly, there has been a ray of hope — with the good performance of the team, the good preparation and the World Cup coming for the first time to the African continent.

“I was there in that bus and we could feel the joy and happiness of the people. It’s something very spontaneous.

“They were there because they believed and have this same ray of hope that we have had. And we won’t be distracted by that.”

Parreira was asked what his message will be to 83rd-ranked Bafana for today’s pressure cauldron opener game against 17th-ranked Mexico.

“Enjoy the game,” he said. “It would not be wise to put more pressure on the players.

“They know they have to deliver. I don’t need to add anything more.”

Bafana’s turnaround in form in their warm-up matches, going 12 games unbeaten and notching an impressive draw against Bulgaria and victories against Colombia and Denmark, has inspired confidence of a competitive performance by Bafana.

“If we have done something good with this team it’s to give them an identity,” Parreira said. “I always stress that I believe in a Bafana Bafana that plays to the strength we have, which is technique and skills.

“Of course it takes time to develop this kind of skill but the players are encouraged to play with the ball, to have fun and do tricks, and enjoy the game.”

Mkhondo said the mood is high in the LOC finally to reach the kick-off of the tournament.

“I don’t think we’re feeling good — we’re feeling great,” he said. “There are, of course, anxieties, butterflies in our stomach whenever we think about the opening match.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for years. Each and every hour we have planned for this day — now it’s here.

“We asked the CEO [Danny Jordaan] this morning, ‘did you sleep?’ And he said, ‘yes, I slept like a baby’.”

Today’s opening game will be televised live on SABC1, SuperSport HD and SuperSport 3.

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