South Africans are on top of the world now that the Confederations Cup has kicked off. The eight-nation soccer tournament is being watched closely as a test to see if the country is ready to host the World Cup in 2010.
The Confederations Cup is considered a dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup
South African President Jacob Zuma officially kicked off the Confederations Cup in Johannesburg telling South Africa and the wrld that the start of the tournament was historic for the entire continent.
"Today this indeed is a great day for Africa and for South Africa," he told the cheering crowd.
"Therefore I would like to declare the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup -- opened!"
FIFA president Sepp Blatter joined Zuma in his optimism, telling thousands of fans that FIFA wanted to thank South Africa for the preparations for the World Cup.
"Dear friends, FIFA is committed to Africa. Brothers and sisters, I would like to say a lot of thanks to the people of South Africa, to the African continent, who have organized this competition," Blatter told the cheering crowds.
The first match of the tournament saw Asian champions Iraq put a damper on South Africa's opening party, holding the hosts to a 0-0 draw. In the second match Spain beat New Zealand 5-0.
A dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup
Both on and off the pitch, all the major players in South Africa have gone the extra mile in order to ensure that the Confederations Cup proves successful over the next two weeks.
The Local Organising Committee of the FIFA World Cup, the South African Football Association, the government and members of the public are generally enthusiastic and confident.
They all seem to want to demonstrate to the world that the country will not only pull off an outstanding Confederations Cup but that South Africa is ready for the World Cup next year.
The opening ceremony was held in the Johannesburg stadium
One issue of concern -- both to visitors and to South African leaders -- is safety and security during the two events.
The South African Police say they have deployed more than 8,000 police officers at cup venues, major airports and hotels to provide security for visiting and local football fans.
"As far as security is concerned it’s all going according to plan," says the national spokesperson for the police, Senior Superintendent Vishnu Naidoo.
"We’re working very, very closely with various other government departments, with the South African national defence force, traffic, metro and all other government departments that form part of the national joint operational structure."
The Local Organising Committee of the FIFA World Cup is equally confident that all necessary security measures have been put in place to ensure that no visitors would have any problems.
"We are very confident that the event, particularly the Confederations Cup, will be very secure and of course also the World Cup itself will be very secure," says Rich Mkhondo, Chief Media Spokesperson for the Local Organising Committee of FIFA.
Fans are looking forward to the action on the pitch
"We’re going to have 12,000 security officers who are going to be on duty during the Confederations Cup. Everything is in place when it comes to security. The spectators, the visitors and the teams are going to be secure," he adds.
The eight stadiums where the World Cup matches will be played are reportedly almost finished -- with four of them already being put to use for Confederations Cup matches in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Rustenburg.
"From the stadium construction side of it, we are hoping that all stadiums will be ready by the end of November come December," says Muhammad Mubarak, deputy president of the South African Football Association.
"So we are very optimistic that all the infrastructure will be in place. And the infrastructure that has been developed so far will be good for the country -- not only for the World Cup but for events after the World Cup as well."
The eight teams participating in the Confederations Cup are Brazil, Spain, Italy, Iraq, Egypt, United States, New Zealand and the hosts South Africa.
Although some international media have concentrated on the difficulties that South Africa faces in hosting both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, most South Africans feel confident that the problems can be overcome.
Officials point out that the country has successfully hosted international rugby, cricket and football tournaments since 1994 without any serious complications.
Author: Subry Govender
Editor: Sam Edmonds