South Africa shines

11 July 2010

South Africa basked Saturday in the success of its trouble-free World Cup, as finishing touches were put to the closing ceremony with superstar Shakira and a herd of giant elephant puppets.

With less than 48 hours to go, the country is bursting with pride at proving wrong the doubters who for years feared that the nation's high crime rate and poor public transport would undermine the tournament.

But the event went off without a major hitch, as hundreds of thousands of foreign fans descended on the country, and South Africans wrapped themselves in a patriotic spirit that bridged the still sharp racial divide.

President Jacob Zuma met Saturday with Olympics chief Jacques Rogge, who has said he would welcome a South African bid for the 2020 Olympics.

Without mentioning a potential bid, Rogge praised South Africa's hosting of the World Cup.

"It is something that will be remembered for a very long time. It will make all Africa proud and the entire sports movement is very happy about that," he said.

Zuma has repeatedly highlighted the social gains brought by the World Cup, with fans of all races gathering in stadiums, 16 years after the first all-race elections.

"The explosion of national pride and the unity that has been displayed by all South Africans is an invaluable benefit of the tournament," Zuma said.

Despite the success so far, local organising committee spokesman Jermaine Craig admitted to "a few butterflies and nerves today ahead of the big one".

An estimated 500 million viewers around the world are expected to watch Sunday's final between the Netherlands and Spain, making it one of the most-watched events in history.

South Africa invested 38 billion rands ($A5.7 billion) in its World Cup preparations, building five new stadiums and renovating five others -- including the showpiece Soccer City, venue for the final match and now the biggest stadium on the continent, with up to 94,500 seats.

The country also unveiled a smart new high-speed train, repaired highways, opened a new airport, and built new bus and train stations ahead of the June 11 kick-off.

Tourists are estimated to have spent $US1.1 billion ($A1.25 billion) at the World Cup, but South African leaders insist the social benefits have been far greater.

"What we cannot quantify is the generation of pride in South Africa as a nation, the unity, the sharing of a single vision," said chief organiser Danny Jordaan.

"We have seen black and white side by side at fan parks and stadiums, when for many years these people were prohibited by law to sit together," he said.

"The demographics at stadiums really showed football contributed towards nation building."

After Saturday's battle for third place between Germany and Uruguay, Sunday's final will be South Africa's last moment in the World Cup spotlight.

Joshua Howat Berger

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