'An explosion of national pride'
Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma on Sunday welcomed the world to South Africa as the country stood on the threshold of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world.
"We are truly pleased and humbled to host the world in our country for this historical and extraordinary event," he told local and international journalists at the presidential guest house in Pretoria.
"We have been preparing for the tournament since 15 May 2004 when Mr Sepp Blatter carefully removed from an envelope, the card that named our country as the host of the 2010 World Cup.
"We knew from that moment that South Africa would never be the same again."
Zuma paid tribute to former president Nelson Mandela, whose appearance at the World Cup had been a hot topic ahead of the event.
"It is through his tireless efforts to achieve reconciliation and to build a thriving rainbow nation that the world bestowed South Africa with this honour of hosting the games," he said.
It remained unclear whether Mandela would attend the World Cup games, with conflicting reports from his party, the ANC, the government and his family.
The ruling party on Thursday said he would be at the opening and closing games, echoing similar comments by Sports Minister Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile. However, Mandela's grandson, Mandla, reportedly said the Nobel laureate would not attend as he was too frail.
Zuma said whether the former president attended would be up to him.
He paid tribute to all South Africans - for their "enthusiasm, joy and excitement".
"The South African flag has become the most popular item on the shopping list of South Africans and this augurs well for nation-building. This explosion of national pride is a priceless benefit of the World Cup tournament."
The infrastructure put in place for the event was another legacy expected to benefit South Africa long after the final whistle had blown.
Zuma assured the world South Africa was "more than ready" for the games.
"For us the World Cup has already begun."
The national team, Bafana Bafana was "ready" and in "fighting form". "It is now all systems go. Well done South Africa, well done Fifa, well done to the world. Let the games begin on Friday."
A long way
He further thanked FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter for believing in South Africa, despite doubts about its ability to host an event of such a magnitude.
Blatter, who flanked Zuma at the briefing, was upbeat about the tournament.
"It was a long way to come with FIFA's World Cup to Africa. It was a long way to come, but we did it."
He said Africa could now "stand as the organiser of the biggest event in the world... Bringing the World Cup to South Africa is to trust South Africa, to trust Africa.
"I am a happy man," he said, before Zuma handed him the World Cup trophy. The next time the two would pose with the golden trophy would be when they handed it to the winning team after the final whistle.