9 June 2010
With days to go to kickoff, World Cup fever has hit South Africa in earnest. Confidence and excitement levels on the streets have reached a 10-year high as the country counts down to what many South Africans are describing as a “second miracle”, after the country’s transition to democracy in 1994.
Travel anywhere around South Africa and the first images you’re likely to see are those of the national flag, hoisted from suburban walls, draped from office block windows and balconies, and attached to every third car on the street.
“I think the whole country is now united by one goal, and that is to make this World Cup a massive success,” Johannesburg resident James Straider told Fifa.com. “Every time I look at the countdown clock I feel nervous, and I think it’s the excitement that creates that.”
John Smit, the captain who led the South African rugby side, the Springboks, to a 2007 Rugby World Cup final triumph, said: “We have seen some unique scenes in our country before, but we are all eagerly waiting for the kick-off of this tournament.
“We will be following closely the progress of Bafana Bafana, and we wish Aaron [Mokoena] and the boys all the best of luck,” Smit said.
One of the country’s most famous football supporters, “Machaka”, is hoping that South Africa will do the nation proud. “I will definitely be supporting Bafana, although I have a soft spot for other teams.
“But for us, it’s important as South Africans to put aside whatever differences we might have and ensure that this tournament becomes a success,” Machaka said. “A lot has been said about our country and it’s capability to host a tournament of this magnitude, but now we are excited.”
Much of the optimism inside the Rainbow Nation, as the post-apartheid South Africa is often referred to, is credited to the recent rich vein of form of the country’s senior national side.
The team, under veteran Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, have recovered from a dry spell in time for their opening match against Mexico, taking place at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium on Friday.
They’ve put in some gutsy performances recently, notching up victories against highly rated sides like Colombia and fellow-finalists Denmark.
For a side that has experienced mixed fortunes in their history, this recent success has renewed hopes among the locals as they prepare to navigate group A, which also includes France and Uruguay.
A majority of the 32 teams competing at the World Cup have already landed in South Africa and are getting the lay of the land ahead of the event. And, without exception, they have given a thumbs up to South Africa’s preparations, with all signs pointing to pure excitement and riveting entertainment for the month ahead.