In just three days, South Africa will finally roll out the red carpet to the world's best 32 teams and their supporters when the FIFA World Cup makes it's first stop on the African continent on Friday, 11 June at Johannesburg’s newly built Soccer City. When the hosts face Mexico at the stunning new stadium, it will undoubtedly rank as one of the proudest moments for the inhabitants of the Rainbow Nation.
Consequently, FIFA World Cup fever has hit South Africa's nine provinces with great intensity as the euphoria of hosting the greatest show on earth climaxes in the host country. As well, confidence levels in the streets have reached a 10-year high as the country prepares for what many South Africans have described as a “second miracle,” after the country’s dramatic conversion to democracy.
Travel anywhere around South Africa and the first images you are likely to see are those of the country’s national flag being hoisted high and attached to almost every third car on the street. “Absolutely excited, I think the whole country is now united by one goal and that is to make this World Cup a massive success,” James Straider, a Johannesburg resident told FIFA.com. “Every time I look at the countdown clock, I feel nervous and I think it’s the excitement that creates that.”
John Smit, the captain who led the South African rugby side, the Springboks to a 2007 Rugby World Cup final triumph, said: “We have seen some unique scenes in our country before, but we are all eagerly waiting for the kick-off of this tournament. We will be following closely the progress of Bafana Bafana and we wish Aaron [Mokoena] and the boys all the best of luck,” Smit said.
One of the country’s most famous and popular football supporters, ‘Machaka,’ is hoping that South Africa will do the nation proud. “I will definitely be supporting Bafana, although I have a soft spot for other teams. But for us, it’s important as South Africans to put aside whatever differences we might have and ensure that this tournament becomes a success. A lot has been said about our country and it’s capability to host a tournament of this magnitude, but now we are excited,” said the flamboyant supporter.
Much of the optimism inside the Rainbow Nation, as the post-apartheid South Africa is fondly referred to, is credited to the recent rich-vein of form of the country’s senior national side. The team and their veteran Carlos Alberto Parreira has recovered in time from a previous dry spell to put in some gutsy performance that include victories against highly rated sides like Colombia and fellow-finalists Denmark.
For a side that has experienced mixed fortunes in their history, this recent success has renewed hopes amongst the locals as they prepare to navigate Group A, which also includes France and Uruguay. A majority of the 32 teams competing at the FIFA World Cup have already landed in South Africa and are getting the lay of the land ahead of the event. And, without exception, they have given a thumbs up to South Africa’s preparations, and all signs pointing to excitement for the month ahead.