SA begins farewell party
Johannesburg – South Africa begins its long farewell to the World Cup with a celebration parade on Friday through the streets of Soweto, two days ahead of the final clash between the Netherlands and Spain.
The three-kilometre procession of brightly coloured floats is another expression of the "new" South Africa that the country has projected during the four-week tournament.
Beginning at a modern shopping mall and ending in a plaza flanked by a posh hotel, the parade's floats tell the history of the township that was a hotbed of resistance to the white-minority apartheid regime.
The procession "will celebrate the past, present and future of Soweto and at the same time will encompass South Africa's historical legacy," said organiser Mandla Hlatshwayo.
The showpiece Soccer City stadium, venue for Sunday's final, lies between Soweto and downtown Johannesburg, highlighting the city's steady transformation 16 years after the first all-race elections.
Major hotel chains reported that they were fully booked throughout Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and the nearby capital Pretoria.
FIFA said tickets to the match are sold out, while the global television audience is expected to reach 500 million viewers.
Colombian pop star Shakira will headline the closing ceremony ahead of the match, where 15 heads of state are expected to attend – most controversially Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who is the target of a European and US travel ban.
South Africa's biggest Hollywood star Charlize Theron has reportedly arrived back home for the final, along with Morgan Freeman, who played Nelson Mandela in last year's film "Invictus".
Airport officials warned the VIPs that they would maintain stricter policies for private jets ahead of the final, after a logjam in landing spots caused delays for six commercial aircraft, making some fans miss Spain's semi-final victory over Germany.
Transport authorities were also warning fans to make plans to arrive early for the game, preferably on public transport, with commuter trains offering free rides to ticket holders.
FIFA said overall attendance at all World Cup matches has topped three million, only the third tournament to do so, partly because of the enormous stadiums that South Africa built for the games.
"Africa can be proud, South Africa even more so and African football can also be proud," FIFA president Sepp Blatter told a news conference. "We are almost at the end, but I am a satisfied president."
South Africa has also overcome fears about crime during the tournament. The country has a staggering crime rate, with an average 50 murders a day, but only a handful of violent crimes have been linked to the World Cup.