For five glorious weeks in the summer of 2006, Germany provided the stage for an astonishing festival of football.
The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany kept billions entranced around the globe. The first FIFA World Cup in a reunited Germany, it proved a resounding success, revealing the host nation as a vibrant, colourful and cosmopolitan place. Now the honour of hosting world football's showpiece event passes to South Africa. For the first time Africa will provide the stage for the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and an entire continent will look ahead with keen anticipation.
The perfect hosts
South Africa has been given a fine model to follow. The world always expected the Germans to lay on a superbly organised show and the world was not disappointed. In addition, the millions of visitors to Germany encountered warm, cheerful hosts from start to finish.
Relive every match at Germany 2006
From Munich to Hamburg, from Cologne to Leipzig, more than 3.3 million people flocked to the 12 wonderful stadiums, joined by many millions more glued to screens at Fan Fests and parties all over the nation. An unparalleled sense of excitement swept the country, as football fans of every creed, colour and race came together to enjoy the spectacle.
The Fan Mile in Berlin proved the biggest magnet of all, drawing crowds of over a million for certain matches. People from countless other countries followed the 64 matches on giant screens. Even football fans whose teams had failed to make it as far as the finals found themselves infected with the fever that accompanied the 18th FIFA World Cup.
Germany showed off a side of its character few believed to exist. Flags were everywhere - on house fronts, cars and buses - while the streets were full of friendly and helpful people. The image of Germans as detached and unsmiling was laid to rest once and for all. Ordinary people came out of their homes to celebrate. The weather could hardly have been better too, as the sun beat down from clear blue skies practically every day, fuelling the already powerful feel-good atmosphere.
The icing on the cake was the performance of the home team, Jurgen Klinsmann's young players generating a wave of enthusiasm on their way to a third-place finish. On the day of the Final, a million people in the red, black and gold of Germany turned out on Berlin's Fan Mile to hail their heroes and bid them a fond farewell.
Germany emerged from the finals with a revamped, shining image. The Official Emblem, the Celebrating Faces of Football, turned out to be a perfect symbol for the tournament, as the world really did enjoy 'A time to make friends'.
An entire continent is waiting
Football fans in Germany were an integral part of this tournament and four years from now in South Africa, the organisers of the 2010 finals will doubtless strive for the same. The one significant difference come 2010 will be that the world will witness a whole continent celebrating.
If the 2006 FIFA World Cup saw Germany in the best light, then 2010 will be opening a window on Africa. The next FIFA World Cup, said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, will be "an African and South African World Cup". Underlining the vibrant, animated continent that football followers will discover, Mr Blatter offered the metaphor: " There will be a lot of drums."
Many recognise that hosting a FIFA World Cup in South Africa will bring hope and capture the imagination of the continent. The 2010 finals have received support from humanitarians such as George Weah, Kofi Annan and Bill Clinton who are involved in projects such as Win in Africa, with Africa' and the African Legacy Programme.
South Africa has enjoyed backing not only from these international figureheads but also from its own government, clearly illustrated by President Thabo Mbeki's presence at the unveiling of the tournament's official emblem in Berlin on 7 July. He invited the world to witness and participate in 2010, saying: "Africa is ready, Africa's time has come, Africa is calling. Come to Africa in 2010!"
Unlike Germany, South Africa has 11 official languages but the lesson that the FIFA World Cup's African hosts will have learnt from events in Germany is that only one language matters. That one true tongue, to quote Kofi Annan, is "the universal language of football".