On 11th June, when the first match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, it will be a defining moment in the history of the nation.
For 30 years, between 1961 and 1991, South Africa was left in the football wilderness by a FIFA ban prompted by the country’s ongoing fight against apartheid.
Nineteen years after rejoining the global football community, South Africa’s catharsis will be complete as it hosts the world’s second most popular and prestigious sporting tournament after the Olympics.
In order to bring the country up to standard for the finals, there have been significant improvements made in all of the major cities across the nation. Existing soccer stadiums have been upgraded, while new ones have been built from scratch, to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will be making their way to South Africa for one of the most eagerly anticipated and historically important World Cups in memory.
Initially there were doom-mongers aplenty insisting the country’s infrastructure could not deal with such a major international event. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding but as we get ever-nearer the big kick off, all the signs are of a nation ready and waiting to put on one of the greatest shows on earth.
For South Africa’s dedicated followers of football, this is their moment. Whilst the country’s domestic leagues are long-established and well-followed, the appetite for truly top-level football is only partially satisfied by the showing of continental games on television.
Fans across the nation flood bars wearing the shirts of Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid and AC Milan when these teams are in actions. Now the players of these clubs will be appearing in the back garden of South Africa’s football fanatics, and they are going to savour every moment of it.