Portugal is a passionate, fanatical football cauldron at the best of times.

And in the week in which Portugal's favourite football son, Cristiano Ronaldo, was anointed as the planet's best player, the Portuguese are bursting with even more footballing pride and fervour than usual.

It was the perfect time then for the spearhead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Dr Danny Jordaan, to be in Lisbon to talk football and South Africa's steady progress in preparing to stage Africa's first FIFA World Cup.

South Africa and Portugal have strong, long-standing sporting and business ties, with an estimated 500 000 people of Portuguese descent currently living in South Africa.

The goals of South African striker, Benni McCarthy, helped Porto to a famous UEFA Champions League triumph, while only last week the famous Sporting Lisbon opened up a joint academy with South African club Bloemfontein Celtic in the Free State province.

Jordaan could be forgiven then for abandoning his usual neutrality and urging Portugal to overcome their early 2010 qualifying jitters, given how much the presence of Ronaldo and the popular Portugal could enhance the tournament.

After four 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, Portugal have picked up only five points, though, and are in third place behind Denmark and Hungary - in danger of missing out on South Africa 2010.

But with six games still to play, Jordaan urged the Portuguese to have a little faith in their team, coached currently by former South African national team coach Carlos Queiroz, a close friend of Jordaan's.

"With its ability and pedigree Portugal should be number one in the group, not three, and I want to wish you all the best for your remaining qualifying matches. We can't see a situation where you have the best player in the world and we don't see Ronaldo - who is producing such scintillating, exciting football - playing at Africa's first FIFA World Cup. It's just wonderful to be here and we want Portugal to qualify for South Africa. In Germany in 2006 Portugal produced wonderful football and you have 500 000 Portuguese fans already in South Africa," Jordaan said yesterday at an event hosted by South Africa's Ambassador to Portugal, Thandiwe Profit Mclean, at the historic Centro Cultural de Belem on the banks of the port of Lisbon, metres from where Vasco Da Gama first set sail to discover the new world.

It's a new modern, vibrant and capable Africa, well on track to successfully delivering the world's biggest sporting spectacle, which Jordaan wants the football world to come and discover in 2010.

And in Portugal he was among many friends.

The event was attended by senior representatives of Portugal's big three clubs - Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Benfica - as well as the cream of the country's business and travel industry, with the Portuguese Government's Secretary of State for Sport and Youth, Laurentino Dias, conveying Portugal's strong support for South Africa's 2010 efforts.

"On behalf of the Portuguese government, you have our solidarity. We're here to help you and to promote 2010. We know you're making a big effort and that an event like this can change the face and image of a country. These are moments future generations will remember forever. We are doing our best and hope things go well for our national team in 2009, because we have thousands of Portuguese living in South Africa and we want to share this moment with you," said Dias.

He said Portugal's successful hosting of Euro 2004, the country's largest sporting operation to date, gave the country a good insight into the enormity of South Africa's 2010 challenge.

"We had half a million tourists, 150 television channels and 10 000 journalists in 2004, so we know what this means. It took the efforts of our whole country to make 2004 our best and we hope the same for South Africa in 2010 and that it will be the biggest and best sporting event in the world," said Dias, a regular visitor to South Africa whose son lives in Cape Town and is a pianist in the city's renowned symphony orchestra.

Plenty of camaraderie and support then for South Africa in one of European football's major centres.

It's up to Madeira's Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese team-mates, however, to see if the party will continue at South Africa 2010 in just over 500 days time.