The World Cup is here!

2010-06-10 22:33
Johannesburg - It is here!

Years of planning and hard work will culminate on Friday with the start of the FIFA World Cup final at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

The 84 490-seater stadium will be packed to capacity, while millions of people from across the world will watch the opening ceremony on television.

More than 1 500 artists will take part in the opening ceremony that starts at 14:00.

The first match, between hosts South Africa and Mexico, kicks off at 16:00.

Former president and icon Nelson Mandela will decide on the day if he will be among the crowd after getting "an open invitation" from President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma told tens of thousands packed into Soweto's historic Orlando stadium for a star-studded "kick-off" party on Thursday night: "South Africa is rocking. South Africa is cool."

Stars included Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas.

Weather Service forecaster  Lulama Menze warned spectators that they should dress warmly, because “it will be cold”!

The forecast for Johannesburg is from a night-time low of 3º C to a day-time high of 16º C under cloudy skies. 

It is the first FIFA winter tournament in more than three decades, the last time being Argentina in 1978. 

The World Cup is being played in nine cities that range from the dry, high altitude of Johannesburg, which can freeze during winter nights, to balmy coastal Durban which has a maximum of 27º C set for Germany against Australia on Sunday.

Youth and experience

All eyes will be on Bafana Bafana on Friday afternoon.

Training camps in Brazil, Germany and South Africa under Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira have reaped reward as the serial losers of last year have gone 12 matches unbeaten.

“We are ready”, says the 67-year-old of a team built around Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar and containing more local-based footballers than originally expected with unfit West Ham striker Benni McCarthy among the casualties.

Mexico look stronger and are more experienced than Bafana Bafana with a potentially potent cocktail of youth and experience captained by occasional Barcelona first-team utility player Rafael Marquez.

No host nation has failed to reach the second round since the World Cup began 80 years ago and three points for Bafana would set them up for a top-two finish and a place among the 16 survivors.

Mandela, headache-inducing plastic vuvuzelas that opponents detest, and a knowledge within the team that an often divided sporting nation has united behind Bafana, may inspire Aaron Mokoena and his team to success.

FIFA president, who is supposed to be neutral,  told Bafana Bafana on Friday "go and get them".

South Africans were brimming with pride and anticipation on Thursday.

Foreign fans

While the last of the 32 competing teams flew in, the Rainbow Nation was caught up in a wave of euphoria.

As blasts of the ear-splitting vuvuzelas echoed around the country, flag sellers who set up stalls at traffic lights struggled to keep pace with demand and even police officers wore jackets in South Africa's national colours. 

But it won't all be "local is lekker". About 300 000 foreign fans are expected in the country for the tournament as well.

Organisers said VIPs at Friday's opening match would include US Vice-President Joe Biden, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

About 20 African heads of state will also be present, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

In the only other match of the day, France will be taking on Uruguay in Cape Town.

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