Ke nako! It's time! The World Cup has begun in South Africa. From now until July 11, the best soccer players in the world, from Lionel Messi to Kaka, are sharing the stage in South Africa.
Vuvuzela horns are a common sight in South African soccer
South African President Jacob Zuma officially opened the 2010 World Cup on Friday.
Shortly afterwards, the home team, South Africa, kicked off the tournament by earning a 1-1 draw against Mexico.
This followed a colorful opening ceremony in the Soccer City stadium in South Africa. The event featured hundreds of dancers as well as South Africa's legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela and American R-and-B star R Kelly, and ended with a five-plane military flypass over the stadium.
Desmond Tutu cheers for South Africa at the opening ceremony
The stadium buzzed with the sound of vuvuzela trumpets as some 90,000 celebrated the opening of the first World Cup ever to be held on the African continent. Among those fans was Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, who sported a yellow and green scarf in support of the South African team.
Nelson Mandela, the country's first black president, had been expected but decided not to attend after the death of his 13-year-old great granddaughter in a car accident overnight.
The World Cup comes to Africa
"It is a uniquely African World Cup," said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the tourism minister for South Africa. The country is united under the motto "Ke nako - It's time" for the first football World Cup on the African continent.
Expectations are high. Tutu hopes the enthusiasm for the World Cup will help reconcile the deeply divided society in South Africa. President Jacob Zuma has said that 16 years after the end of apartheid, this is South Africa's chance to seize "the locomotive of change and development in Africa."
Rainer Zobel, the German coach of the professional soccer club Moroka Swallows in Soweto has said this will be a "slightly different, especially colorful and noisy World Cup."
Indeed, the World Cup will probably be remembered for introducing the deafening sound of the plastic vuvuzelas horns, which are popular with South African football fans.
"The vuvuzelas belong to this country," said Rainer Dinckelacker, German goalkeeping coach with the popular South African club Kaizer Chiefs. "It annoys me sometimes in games when they stand five meters away and honk them for the whole 90 minutes. But it's simply part of the game."
The organizers have promised a unique party atmosphere in South Africa for spectators
Safaris, soccer and barbeques
The South African hosts hope that around 350,000 tourists will come for the World Cup, and around 10,000 of these will be German. Tourism Minister van Schalkwyk promises visitors impressive experiences: "People can see lions, elephants and rhinos after breakfast. Then they can watch a soccer game in the afternoon and then at night, head back to the African bush for a barbeque. Unique and special African events await every one of our guests."
Overall in the World Cup year, the country is expecting a record 10 million visitors. "South Africa is just fantastic, be it the mountains, the sea or the zoos," said Wolfgang Jakob, Hamburg's honorary ambassador. Jakob has been living in South Africa for 10 years: "If you saw the diversity and beauty of this country, you wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
Ten stadiums in nine states
For the four weeks of the World Cup, the nine host cities will be in the spotlight. The cities represent the diversity of the country, which sees itself as a 'rainbow nation.'
"There are so many different impressions from the cities, even in climate. There's sub-tropical Durban, Johannesburg at 1,800 meters altitude, and then Cape Town on the Atlantic with its Mediterranean climate," said Robert Hormes, the German project leader of the new World Cup stadium in Cape Town.
The Green Point stadium in Cape Town is one of several new venues
In a total of 10 arenas, 64 World Cup games will be played.
At the heart of the World Cup is the province of Gauteng. Here, two thirds of the 32 teams and a third of all games will be played. This includes the opening match between South Africa and Mexico in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium - where a month later, the winner will also be determined.
According to soccer governing body FIFA, 97 percent of the 2.88 million tickets have been sold. The fear of having empty stadiums seems to have been misplaced.
Many locals will be watching the games, but not necessarily live, as the high ticket costs were unaffordable for many Africans. FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said sales on the African continent were disappointing.
Problems have also arisen with inadequate transportation to the stadiums, despite the efforts of the transport minister. In particular, the new rapid transit system has been criticized by the taxi industry, and it is feared strikes could blow up during the World Cup.
Managing the risks to tourists
While hooligans are a rarity in South African football, the country's high crime rate could cast a shadow over the tournament. Violent crime is particularly prevalent in the poorer quarters of cities. Several million people still live in poverty in the townships.
Most South Africans will have to settle to watch the games on television
Theresa Bay-Mueller from South Africa Tourism, attempts to dispel doubts: "We have hosted 146 events in recent years. Nothing happened there." Her words are echoed by Helmut Spahn, the security officer for the German Football Association. "It is often that these crimes are committed within groups who know each other. Tourists are rarely the target."
In view of the World Cup, 46,000 extra police in the airports, inner cities and around the stadiums have been drafted.
Spain , Brazil or even Germany?
The top favorites to lift the trophy are either current European Champions Spain or the world record champions Brazil. Also current title-holders Italy, plus Argentina, England, France and the Netherlands are hotly tipped. But can the German team follow the words of national coach Joachim Loew: "Every time we count on being one of the favorites. Our goal is to win the tournament." Loew is aiming for Germany's fourth World Cup victory.
The hopes of South Africa rest upon their national team, Bafana Bafana. If the host team successfully launch themselves into their tough group with France, Mexico and Uruguay, coach Rainer Dinckelacker says the atmosphere of Germany in 2006 could be re-created. "If South Africans see their Bafana win, then it could get out of hand. Anything is possible with the celebrations, and there will be a wave of euphoria."
Author: Arnulf Boettcher (cb)
Editor: Nancy Isenson