In less than a year from now, Africa will be rolling out the red carpet for the biggest sporting show on earth, with the continent's inaugural FIFA World Cup™ finals to kick off in South Africa come June 2010.
With less than a year to go before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa has already been well and truly gripped by football fever. The mission for the host nation is to set the stage for the world's brightest footballing talents to unleash their full potential and battle for the coveted Trophy currently held by Germany 2006 winners Italy.
"It's going to be big, it will be a massive moment for my country," said football enthusiast Freddie ‘Saddam' Maake while pulling on the gold-and-green jersey of his beloved South Africa. Maake still has vivid memories of his country's triumph in the CAF African Cup of Nations on home soil back in 1996 and expects the FIFA World Cup finals to be an experience that "blows me away".
Singing from the same hymn sheet are some 44 million South Africans who are determined to make a success of hosting the first FIFA World Cup finals on African soil, a dream which can be traced all the way back to 1994. One of these is another football follower, Mzion Mofokeng, who feels sure that South Africa's hosting of the forthcoming FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 will convince the rest of the world that the continent is ready and able to host a tournament of this magnitude.
"For players like me who never got a chance to play at a World Cup, this is a dream come true, it's an emotional moment for me," said South African football legend Jomo Sono to a packed audience at a special function in Johannesburg.
"To have the World Cup in my country in my lifetime is moving," continued the businessman and club owner who, despite being one of his country's finest ever talents, never had the opportunity to represent his national team. "Yes, it can't make up for some of the regrets we have, but it brings a special feeling, I can't really explain it in words, but I can tell you, it's a good feeling," added the former midfielder maestro, who played alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbauer in the heyday of US side the New York Cosmos.
Meanwhile, the FIFA Official Store at Singapore's Changi Airport at Terminal 3 has marked the final 365 days to the FIFA World Cup with the unveiling of a symbolic countdown clock in the store and a celebratory shopping promotion to offer a pair of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa group match tickets in its three-month long "Countdown Lucky Draw" promotion.
"FIFA World Cup fans around the world are already gearing up one year ahead of the event, evidenced by the exceptional rate at which event tickets are being purchased," said Mark Matheny, CEO and Co-Chair of Global Brands Group, said. "I am certain that fans will be equally excited with the range of Official Licensed Event Products available in the FIFA Official Store."
Although the official countdown for South Africa 2010 started on 15 May 2004, when the ‘Rainbow Nation', as South Africa has been fondly referred to in the post-apartheid era, was awarded the rights to host the global showpiece, today's ‘one-year-to-go' celebration remains a special milestone. Indeed, history will be made on 11 June 2010 when a FIFA World Cup match is played on African soil for the very first time. Involved in that match will be the host nation, set to take on opponents whose identities will be confirmed at the draw for the finals in Cape Town in December 2009.
Four teams from across the world have already secured their berth at world football's top table, with the competition heating up across the various regional qualifying zones. First to qualify were Japan, closely followed by fellow Asian Zone sides Korea Republic and Australia, while the Netherlands were the first European nation to ensure their involvement at the elite event.
Finally we turn to another of the notable and laudable milestones for South Africa - the stadiums - some of which have been constructed from scratch specifically for the tournament. The majestic and elegant Soccer City in Johannesburg, which will be the venue for the Opening Match and Final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, is rapidly taking shape and will be unveiled soon. And another of the cases worth highlighting is that of the Port Elizabeth stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth: the first of the newly-constructed finals venues to be ready and already hosting sporting activities.