Just days before South Africa meets Mexico in the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Soccer City, Johannesburg, the host country’s President Jacob Zuma took the opportunity to welcome the world to South Africa.

Briefing the media at the Presidential Guesthouse in the capital Tshwane/Pretoria, Zuma said that the country was “truly blessed and humbled to host the world in our country for this historical and extraordinary event”.

Zuma said that the country has been preparing for the tournament since FIFA President Joseph S Blatter announced South Africa as the hosts on 15 May 2004.

“We knew from that moment, that South Africa would never be the same again,” the President told the briefing.

Indeed South Africa has resembled a construction site for the last six years as world-class stadiums have been built and roads, rail, airports and communication systems upgraded in record time to meet the demands of the tournament and the country’s developmental needs for years to come.

The enthusiasm, joy and excitement that has engulfed the entire nation in recent weeks has not been witnessed since President Mandela was released from prison

South African President, Jacob Zuma

But more than that, Zuma noted how the World Cup was already bring a nation, with a difficult and divided past, closer together, with the South African flag now the most popular item on the shopping list of South Africans.

“The enthusiasm, joy and excitement that has engulfed the entire nation in recent weeks has not been witnessed since President Mandela was released from prison.”

Before ceremonially handing the FIFA World Cup trophy to Blatter, he thanked the FIFA President for consistently expressing his confidence in South Africa’s ability to host the event when Afro-pessimists and others expressed doubts at certain points along the way.

"Bringing the World Cup to South Africa is to trust South Africa, South Africans, to trust Africa and say you are strong," said Blatter, who described himself as “a happy man”.

He also thanked former President Thabo Mbeki for his leadership of the project during his term of office, the Inter-Ministerial Task Team led by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, as well as the Organising Committee led by Irvin Khoza and his team including CEO Danny Jordaan and the staff who work behind the scenes to make things happen. “The long hours of hard work have finally paid off. The nation is proud of you!”