Football fever hits Rustenburg
Little is known of the small town of Rustenburg around the world. That is understable give the fact that, besides being home to one of South Africa's richest tribes - the Bafokeng - not much has been said or written about the city. Precious little comment has been made about its majestic mountains, the breathtaking view of Sun City, the rare landscapes one is likely to encounter on the road from Johannesburg, nor the vegetation that guides the way along the route.
The growing football passion among fans from the Northwest Province has also gone largely unreported. In the next few weeks, however, this could all change, starting with the Nelson Mandela Challenge at the end of the month. The annual event is intended as a curtain-raiser for the fast-approaching 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, and will see South Africa's national team play host to Norway. Rustenburg is one of the four venues for June's FIFA Confederations Cup, and the Challenge will be the first official match to be held at the refurbished Royal Bafokeng Stadium.
Rustenburg 2010 coordinator, Nketu Matima, said locals were developing a serious case of football fever in the area and are anticipating an exciting few months. "The People of Rustenburg are eagerly anticipating the visit of our national team," Matima told FIFA.com. "The South African team has been really embraced from this side of the country. The city has been working around the clock to ensure success of not only the upcoming Bafana game, but the Confederations Cup tournament, which will be a big event for us. We are excited and our people can barely wait for this moment."
In the past, football has played second fiddle to rugby in this part of South Africa. However, the emergence of the mining magnates from Rustenburg, including the rich Bafokeng nation, has seen the beautiful game take its rightful place, with local club Platinum Stars enjoying ever-increasing levels of support.
The Royal Bafokeng Stadium will host some tantalising clashes during the FIFA Confederations Cup including the showdown between European champions Spain and Oceanian kings New Zealand on the opening day of the event. This will be followed by a game between home favourites Bafana Bafana and the New Zealanders. The Royal Bafokeng will then play host to the third-place play-off, which will be contested by the losing semi-finalists. "Our stadium, the Royal Bafokeng, is looking great and we are happy with the work that has been done on it. I think people are going to be very impressed with the facilities at the stadium when they visit for the Confederations Cup," Matima added.
The last time South Africa played in Rustenburg was in November of last year. It bodes well that, on that occasion, they secured a 3-2 victory against Cameroon in a Nelson Mandela Challenge that attracted a capacity crowd at the Olympia Park, just a few kilometres from the gleaming new Royal Bafokeng.