At the Sandton Sun Hotel in central Johannesburg last month, Danny Jordaan, speaking to a group of Asian journalists, couldn't resist smiling when he said that at least now, the world media is asking how South Africa will stage the World Cup finals rather than whether they will hold one at all.
On that, 161 days before the finals kick off in Johannesburg with South Africa playing Mexico, it would be difficult to dispute the CEO of the 2010 World Cup Organising Committee. Move over scepticism, with five new stadia and five more refurbished, South Africa is as ready as ready can be.
The countdown clocks at major airports are winding down to D-Day (June 11) and before you get to the immigration counters, you will chance upon FIFA's major sponsors talking about the month-long extravaganza. One that should showcase Africa, a continent the Olympics have feared to tread, and where the ear-splitting noise of vuvuzelas (plastic and metal horns without which the South African fan isn't a finished article) will be an integral part.
The SA government has spent 28 billion rand (Rs 1771.3 crore) in shoring up infrastructure. Airports, always a good place for first impressions, have been refurbished, new hotels have come up and South Africa’s pride, the Gautrain, will be up and running before the big ball starts bouncing. The Gautrain is an 80km mass rapid transit system connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
With the air of a man who’s been there, done that, former German star and coach Juergen Klinsmann has said there could be surprises. Clive Baxter, who coached SA to their first African Nations title in 1996, said his money would be on a team from Africa going all the way.
There will be more predictions as 2010 gets to June but realistically, it is difficult to look beyond the usual suspects - Brazil, Italy, England, Germany, Argentina and Spain. Till they actually get their hands on the trophy, The Netherlands will always be a dark horse. Just as even though they are in a difficult group, Brazil start as favourites.
Of the venues, the 70,000-seater Moses Mahbida Stadium in Durban stands out because of its arch. The cauldron that is Soccer City, where it all starts and ends, looms from a distance. When the lights come on, the stadium looks like a cooking pot on fire. Metaphorically, it will be the meal the world is waiting for. Hot dates: June 11-July 11.