It is now almost six years since it was announced that South Africa would host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. During that time much has been written about the first African nation to host the game’s showpiece event, from ringing endorsements to the most hurtful misgivings. So, as the countdown continues to June’s eagerly awaited kick-off, who better to hear from than some of the coaches of the national teams who will grace the big event itself? caught up with a selection of the national team supremos who were attending the Team Workshop in Sun City this week and can confirm that, for the finalists themselves, the tournament could not be in better hands.

A united front
Despite the dissenting voices, there can be no disputing that the first ever FIFA World Cup on African soil has generated an enormous swell of enthusiasm and expectation. Encapsulating this perfectly was Vicente del Bosque, coach of a Spanish side hotly tipped to lift the Trophy for the very first time: “We coaches, and everyone else who comes to this tournament, have to make this the best advertisement for Africa. This continent needs it, and I believe these finals will be every bit as successful as the previous 18 editions.”

The Spanish tactician, who got a taste of South Africa at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, was not the only one delighted to see the elite of world football coming to the continent. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, for his part, felt the most significant thing was that “the tournament was being played outside Europe and the Americas. All the populations of the world have the right to host a World Cup which, given the huge amount of organisation and logistics involved, appeared to be increasingly beyond the reach of less-well-off countries.”

I love this country, and the sense of pride the public feel to be hosting the World Cup is palpable. The people here know how to enjoy themselves.

Joachim Low, Germany coach.

The Celeste supremo, who was also at the helm of his national team at Italy 1990, went further, saying. “It could even pave the way for another African country to host the event, perhaps in the north of the continent. South Africa faced considerable challenges [in organising this event], like improving the road network and the availability of public transport, but it’s worth it as it’s all in aid of the best sporting event on the planet.”

A familiar sight
Of the coaches attending the Workshop, almost all have been to South Africa before – most for last December’s Final Draw, others for the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009, and more still to sample its delights while on vacation. For Marcello Lippi, coach of the defending champions Italy and visiting for the third time, “There is a huge determination here to make the most of this exceptional opportunity. Every effort is being made to ensure this tournament continues to be a great success.”

Echoing that sentiment was Germany’s head coach Joachim Low, who admitted to having visited the country on “countless occasions”. So how would he sum it up? “I love this country, and the sense of pride the public feel to be hosting the World Cup is palpable. The people here know how to enjoy themselves, that’s apparent, and we’re looking forward to coming here in June to join the party.” 

Another to have visited the homeland of Nelson Mandela on numerous occasions is New Zealand supremo Ricki Herbert. “We were very impressed with the facilities available for the Confederations Cup. It’s a great country with very friendly people, and I’m sure visiting fans will fall in love with South Africa.”

Doing it their way
With his vast experience in African football, Algeria coach Rabah Saadane said he was “confident the tournament would be organised perfectly. The shared commitment and hard work being done by FIFA and the LOC is very apparent. There’s no reason at all to be worried.” The coach also had other grounds for optimism, saying: “The weather should help produce better games – it’ll be ideal.” It was a theme also touched on by Del Bosque and Lippi, who both felt that playing in the South African winter would reduce the incidence of physical exhaustion.

“I’ve been here seven or eight times,” said Australia coach Pim Verbeek, “and I’ve always enjoyed it, including as a tourist. It’ll be a fabulous tournament, mark my words. I haven’t the slightest doubt that everything will be very well organised.”

In the face of comparisons with previous editions, some grossly unfair it should be said, South Africa’s organisers do face the considerable challenge that is having to follow Germany in the hosting of sport’s premier event. France coach Raymond Domenech had his say on the issue. “We’re in Africa not Germany. Just because there are differences doesn’t mean it won’t be a success here. On the contrary! It’s a challenge for everybody, and one that I have no doubt will be met successfully.”

With such confident predictions from key protagonists, South Africa can be duly proud of the impression it has already made as it goes about its final preparations.