Probably the best place to gauge South Africa’s readiness for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ are the towering world-class stadiums that stand at the sites of what has been fondly referred to as 'the Rainbow Nation’s second miracle' next year.
Colourful scenes of more than 50,000 football fans at Cape Town's Long Street during the inaugural launch of the Fan Fest also sent a clear signal to the rest of the world about the football fever that is currently infecting many people in the host nation. The message was simple: South Africans are now waiting with bated breath for their biggest moment in history.
Lucas Radebe, arguably the most successful football export from South Africa in the post-apartheid era, believes that his country has wowed the watching world in 2009. "This has been a very successful year for us, we have achieved so many things and I think we exceeded a lot of expectations,” he said. "There are so many things that come to mind, but maybe the completion of our stadiums stands out. People can no longer ask questions on whether they will be ready or not, they are there for everyone to see."
This has been a very successful year for us, we have achieved so many things and I think we exceeded a lot of expectations.
That is why 2009 will be remembered as the year that removed the veil of scepticism on the country's ability to host the world's biggest single-event sporting tournament. "It was important to make a statement to the rest of the world," added Radebe. "I always knew that we will be ready and this was an important year to showcase our worth."
FIFA.com now analyses the highlights of the year for South Africa...
FIFA Confederations Cup
Rated as one of the most successful FIFA Confederations Cups ever, this tournament was always vital in gauging South Africa's readiness for the world's greatest showcase. The attendance for the tournament that totalled to 584,894 showed that South Africans had embraced the event, which highlighted what their country could offer.
The tournament also introduced the rest of the world to the South African football culture and passion. Colourful fans brought excitement and enthusiasm to all four venues. All of a sudden, people got to know about the Vuvuzela and the decorative hats known as Makaraba.
The tournament saw some of the most decorated stars in world football like Kaka, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and many others. After two weeks of top-class football and a total of 44 goals, Brazil reigned supreme and reclaimed the trophy they won in 2005 with striker Luis Fabiano acting as the destroyer-in-chief. He scored five goals to earn the adidas Golden Shoe award. But it was inspirational Kaka whose sublime performances earned him the Golden Ball for best player. A gutsy showing from the hosts, South Africa - who lost to Spain in the match for third place - won the hearts and admiration of many neutrals as well.
The Final Draw
The moment that South Africans will savour in the coming months would have to be the Final Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Cape Town, which was executed with aplomb. Broadcasted to more than 200 countries worldwide, over 1,700 journalists were present in Cape Town to cover the evening's events. Naturally, the Draw dominated news across the world as fans and teams waited impatiently to learn their fate.
The hosts, and 31 teams, including some of the most celebrated coaches in the world like Fabio Capello, Marcello Lippi, Raymond Domenech and Vicente del Bosque - to name just a few - descended to Cape Town to be part of the glittering event.
The evening set the tone for what South Africans hope will be the biggest year of this young democracy: 2010. South Africa's Oscar-winning actress, Charlize Theron, David Beckham, Haile Gebrselassie, plus three of South Africa's top athletes in Makhaya Ntini, John Smit and Matthew Booth all took to the stage to add more glitz and glamour to the event.
The day of the Final Draw also brought attention to the football euphoria in the country when thousands of fans gathered at Long Street in Cape Town to watch the draw live at the launch of the Fan Fest. Long Street will also be the venue for one of the nine Fan Fests taking place in South Africa during the month-long tournament.
People can no longer ask questions on whether they will be ready or not, they are there for everyone to see.
The stadiums bear testament to the road that has been travelled by the hosts. The majestic Soccer City, venue for the opening game of the FIFA World Cup, stands tall just outside the historic Soweto township.
The impressive Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was completed in May, 13 months before the tournament – a remarkable milestone for South Africa. The breath-taking Durban Stadium and the stunning Green Point are ready for football as well, with the former having already hosted a local game between two Durban teams, Amazulu and Maritzburg United. The The 70,000-seater Durban Stadium has been specifically designed as a multi-purpose venue and an amphitheatre complete with a cable car which ascends to a viewing platform at the top of the expansive 350m arch, a staggering 106m above the pitch. Situated between the world famous Table Mountain, which dominates Cape Town’s skyline, and the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Green Point stadium is impressive to say the least.
Construction at other newly-built stadiums: Peter Mokaba, Mbombela has also been completed.
On the field
On the football field, the hosts have experienced mixed fortunes. But the re-appointment of FIFA World Cup-wining coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has restored hope. Being the eternal optimist, he has insisted that his charges are all geared to climb what he describes, in his own words, as "Mount Everest."
What will be comforting for the South Africans, however, is that, at the FIFA Confederations Cup, they surprised many and won new admirers with their display. Not only did they fight with gusto and tenacity, but they showed good technical ability against some of the most tactically advanced teams in the world. That they lost by one goal to both Brazil and Spain will bring a glimmer of hope to the millions of expectant fans in their opening match against Mexico on 11 June next year.