The eyes of the world will focus on a highly-tendered plot of grass at Johannesburg's Soccer City when the Netherlands meet Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final™. To ensure the grand finale of world football’s greatest event takes place on the best possible playing surface, a hard-toiling and dedicated team have been working around the clock over recent months.
Thanks to the efforts of head groundsman Juane Klingbiel and his colleagues, the pitch is in immaculate condition and the players will have little cause for complaint about their working conditions when they take the field in front of a massive global television audience. With the stadium inaugurated only in May, the pitch is still very much in its infancy with the Final the eighth match of the tournament held at the 84,490-capacity venue – the largest stadium on the continent when operating at full capacity.
So how has the most utilised venue at South Africa 2010 held up over the last month? "Brilliant," says Klingbiel unequivocally. "I think it is one of the best pitches I have ever seen. Ball roll, firmness and everything is excellent and I'm very happy. It's even better than (I could have hoped for the Final). The feedback from all the teams has been brilliant and I'm going to sleep each night with a smile."
Built on the site of the previous national stadium, which was built in the mid-1980s, the venue in its previous incarnation was widely regarded as the heartbeat of South African football having hosted many important matches, most notably Bafana Bafana's landmark CAF Africa Cup of Nations triumph in 1996. With the construction funded through the football fraternity's coffers, the venue also hosted the first mass rally of Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990. Soccer City is also set to host concerts, Rugby internationals and of course, matches featuring iconic Johannesburg clubs Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
The distinctive new stadium is undoubtedly among the elite venues in world sport and its completion and successful opening is an achievement of which all South Africans are rightly proud. Located in the football heartland of Soweto, the stadium is designed in the form of a calabash or African pot. Otherwise known as the 'melting pot of cultures', the colourful design is suggestive of a pot being fired, hence it is also named the 'pit of fire'.
"We started doing the pitch construction while the construction of the stadium took place. To see the pitch develop and the stadium develop has been an amazing trip. I'm very proud (of the stadium). The guys have outdone themselves putting this together. I haven't seen anything like this ever. Just to be saying this is South Africa 2010, and I'm the guy working on the pitch... what an experience, it's amazing.
"The atmosphere and the whole vibe the World Cup has created has been great. It has been a great influence on South Africa, and I think people have enjoyed the event and we have passed all the tests so I think everyone is very happy. Seeing the Final ending will be a highlight just to get through everything OK. Also at the first game, with the opening ceremony, I thought to myself, 'South Africa is really going to pull this off' and that was a particular highlight for me.
"I'm chuffed at myself and with my team, and without these guys we wouldn't have done it. Every match when we see the players run out, the people are happy, the vuvuzelas are playing and everyone is going mad. We can give ourselves a quiet pat on the back and say we have done a good job."