In less than six months, South Africa is due to embark on what figures to be the most rewarding and spectacular journey in its short yet celebrated history as a democracy when the country will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
And South Africans can hardly wait. Neil Tovey, the man who led South Africa to their first ever continental triumph at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 described this year as "probably the second most important" period the country’s era. The first one, obviously, being when South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994, thus ending the country’s apartheid regime.
"It’s an important year for all South Africans. When I was still playing, I never dreamt that we would one day host a FIFA World Cup in this country. At this moment, I guess everyone is proud to be South African because we have an opportunity to change people’s perception of not only South Africa but also about the African continent," Tovey said.
Former boxing World Champion and a sport icon in South Africa, Vuyani Bungu is optimistic about the event and believes it will go a long way in bridging the differences that exist with the country. "The World Cup is by far the biggest sporting event and we are privileged to be hosting it. I think this is going to be a very good year for us and for our country.
"This World Cup will unite this country. I think once people realise just how big this event is, they will look beyond the differences and unite as South Africans to show the world what we can offer as a nation. We have travelled a long journey as a country and this is an opportunity to take yet another step forward," Bungu told FIFA.com.
South African football legend, Mark Fish said South Africans were now waiting with bated breath for the World Cup. "It seems that a lot of people are now only talking about the World Cup, and I think it is because people realise that this is a moment that has a potential to change this country. 2010 will undoubtedly go down in the history books as one of this country’s most memorable moments."
Television personality and radio disc jockey, Andile Ncube said he expects to see the host team, affectionately called Bafana Bafana, do well on the pitch at the FIFA World Cup. "The most important thing for us now is to get our team ready. We have to be ready. We did fairly well at the Confederations Cup tournament in June, but now we have to be ready for the big one. It is important for the team to do well in this tournament in order to boast the morale of the country and to get everyone behind it," Ncube said.
Makhaya Ntini, the first ethnic black player to play for the South African cricket team 12 years ago, said he was expecting 2010 to be a massive year for his country. As someone who has played at a World Cup on home turf, Ntini is familiar with the challenges of playing in front of your own crowd. "First of all, to host any World Cup in your own country is simply unbelievable, and to be participating in it is out of this world. For me it was the cricket World Cup, but we all know that the football World Cup is much bigger than that. It’s a massive opportunity for us to take our rightful place on the world stage."
But Ntini added a note of warning regarding the expectations of the home supporters. "For the Bafana Bafana players, it’s pressure all the way. You have no idea how you’ll feel when you have the expectations of 46 million people on your shoulders, all of them wanting results. But that pressure can be good for a player, as I hope it will be for our boys."