Stadiums ready for action
Preparations for the FIFA Confederations Cup have moved up another gear as the eagerly-anticipated tournament draws ever closer.
The event, which features the six continental champions, the hosts and the FIFA World Cup™ holders, has been generating great excitement in South Africa, and this week witnessed another piece of the jigsaw fall into place ahead of the 14 June kick-off. This latest step forward came when two of the four stadiums in which the tournament will be held, Ellis Park and Loftus, opened their doors to top flight football after being given a clean bill of health by the inspection teams.
Last Saturday, Pretoria's Loftus kicked things off by playing host to a major domestic match between reigning South African champions SuperSport United and one of the country's most popular team, Kaizer Chiefs. Ellis Park will follow suit on Wednesday with a similarly mouth-watering clash between Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates, a fixture that attracts huge interest in South African football calendar.
Both stadiums are reopening after undergoing refurbishments aimed at equipping the venues with state of the art infrastructure to meet FIFA standards. Ellis Park will host the opening ceremony of the Confederations Cup ahead of the tournament's curtain-raiser between South Africa and Iraq, and the Johannesburg arena will also stage the final on 28 June. Loftus, meanwhile, has some potentially classic clashes to look forward to, including the clash of two football titans when Brazil lock horns with Italy.
The stadiums have already hosted Super 14 rugby, a competition that features rugby teams from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Johannesburg 2010 co-ordinator Sibongile Mazibuko said of the progress: "From our side, everything is on track. Ellis Park is ready. Last week, we had the inspection team from FIFA and they were happy with the progress. People are now looking forward in watching some of the world's biggest stars in June during the Confederations Cup."
Tshwane/ Pretoria 2010 coordinator Godfrey Nkwane was equally happy with the work that had been carried out to bring Loftus up to scratch. He said: "The stadium is looking very beautiful and I'm glad to announce that we are now officially ready for the Confederations Cup. We are confident that everything is on track and people in our city are now waiting for the big moment when we will host our first Confederations Cup match in June."
But the work doesn't stop there. The turf at FIFA Confederations Cup venues will now be given special attention, with reseeding taking place in April. The Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, meanwhile, will be officially opened towards the end of March with a match between South Africa and Norway in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge.