The 12 June 1998, Marseille's Stade Velodrome. Host nation France kick off their FIFA World Cup campaign with a tough encounter against South Africa, which they eventually win 3-0. At opposite ends of the pitch stand two indomitable central defenders: Lucas Radebe, the Bafana Bafana captain, and Marcel Desailly, the famous Ghanaian-born rock at the heart of Les Bleus' defence.

More than nine years after that unforgettable match, the two men, both now retired, found themselves thrown together once more, in their roles as ambassadors for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, as they paid a visit to the construction site of the new Durban Stadium.

Their visit offered a chance to put an end to rumours of problems, as they discovered a project that is well advanced, with work going on at a cracking pace. Due to be completed in July 2009, this wonderful 70,000-capacity venue, the jewel in the crown of South Africa's second largest city, will be ready to open bang on time, and the rest of the world will be able to marvel at its splendour just a few months later.

"It will be one of the most beautiful stadiums in the competition," confirms Radebe, a true national icon in his native country who is forced to stop every couple of paces and smile for the cameras. "Durban is a city that is passionate about sport and I can assure you that the spectacle will not just be on the pitch. The atmosphere will be fantastic every day. When I arrived at the site, I could already imagine what it will be like the stadium is full and it gave me goose bumps."

Desailly: Benefits for all
Even though only the first phase has been completed, the stadium is already an impressive structure. "Coming here from Europe, you don't really know what to expect," admits Desailly. "But once you are here, it's impossible not to feel confident about the success of the event. I am convinced it is going to be one of the best World Cups in history. But the most important thing is that all of the infrastructure has been planned with the future in mind. It means that the South African nation as a whole will benefit.""Once the draw is made this Sunday, South Africans will be pinching themselves as they realise that the dream has finally become a reality," adds Radebe.

Despite the fact that both men retired from the game several years ago, neither has lost the emotional rush experienced by players when they first step out onto a football pitch. There is perhaps even a touch of envy when they step onto the platform located in the centre of what will eventually be the pitch, as they imagine how the players will feel when they emerge from the tunnel at the FIFA World Cup in just over two and a half years' time.

"At that moment, I'll be just another face in the crowd, watching from somewhere in the stands," says Radebe, clearly already immersed in thoughts of the global tournament to be staged on his home turf. "I'll be admiring with a touch of nostalgia the players who have the honour of being out on that pitch!"

To watch the video of the visit, and the full interviews with Lucas Radebe and Marcel Desailly (in English), click on the links in the right-hand column.