South Africa has played host to some of the biggest names and teams in world football over the years, but the visit of FC Barcelona promises to be one of the country's biggest football occasions yet.
David Beckham captained a full-strength England against South
Africa in Durban, Dunga brought the
Selecao to play in Johannesburg, a city which has also
hosted to a world champion
Les Bleus led by Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and
In addition the national teams of Germany and the Netherlands have also played full international games in the country that will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
On the club football front Alex Ferguson's Manchester United are regular pre-season visitors to South Africa, with AC Milan, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool all also having graced the country's football fields on successful off-season tours.
But when Catalan giants Barca play reigning South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday night, they will be arguably the best club side ever to grace a local football field.
Lionel Messi, who will feature for Argentina in the Copa America in July, is the most notable absentee from the Barcelona squad traveling to South Africa. Still, with the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto'o, Lillian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta all set to be in South Africa, Frank Rijkaard's dream team is a considerable drawcard for local fans.
For 2010 FIFA World Cup host city, Pretoria, the Barcelona game
is ideal preparation for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and of
course the 2010 showpiece, events in which the Loftus ground will
play a significant role.
Godfrey Nkwane, the 2010 co-ordinator for the City of Tshwane Municipality, says the visit of Barca is an "exciting time" for the city.
"We're trying to showcase what we have as a city to the whole world and mastering the art of staging big games," Nkwane said. "We're using the Barcelona game as a dry run for the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. We hosted Manchester United last year and we're hosting Spurs next month. The more matches of this magnitude we host, the more we will be able to showcase our capabilities and show people that South Africa is a good place to visit. Barcelona's a big team, but I have no doubt that the Barca game will be as successful as the other big games we've hosted."
He added that the Barca visit has led to unprecedented soccer
fever in the city.
"We've had so many inquiries about this game both locally and internationally. As a city, we're very excited about the game, especially as Barcelona are bringing all their big names here," said Nkwane.
In addition to the match, Sundowns and Barcelona will host a dinner to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and Unicef, with the iconic Mandela set to be in attendance.
Former Sundowns, Bari and Leeds United striker Philemon Masinga,
who is one of South Africa's 2010 FIFA World Cup ambassadors,
said Barcelona's visit to the country heightened excitement
even more in the country that will host Africa's first FIFA
World Cup™ in three years.
"The mood in the country's getting there and we're really counting the days down to 2010 now in South Africa," he said. "The hype is being created by teams like Barcelona and Spurs coming here and everybody is really focusing on making sure the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ is one of the best ever."