By way of venues, try finding one more appropriate. The stadium, built at $403 million, is shaped like a calabash because it is supposed to be melting pot for all of Africa. And it is called Soccer City. This is where the quadrennial showpiece that the World Cup is will begin and end.
Football Fridays — a South African concept to bond citizens with the finals by wearing team shirts, sporting flags and even learning the national anthem — will take on a whole new meaning when Bafana Bafana take on Mexico in Group A. After Chile in 1962, this will be the first finals in winter.
“Miserable and cold? Count us in,” England captain Rio Ferdinand had said before injury ruled him out.
“It is difficult to not be affected by the joy the World Cup has brought to South Africa,” said South Africa coach, Carlos Parreira, on Thursday.
“We want to enjoy the game though I know it is not easy to enjoy against a team as strong as Mexico.”
Barring Brazil in 1958 and 2002, the World Cup’s stayed in the host continent. In November 2009, Clive Baxter, who coached South Africa to their first African Cup of Nations triumph, said the trend would continue.
On Thursday, John ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu, an attacking midfielder in that team, said: “Remember Denmark (European Championship, 1992) and Greece (Euro 2004). All is not yet lost with us.”
A little earlier, Patrick Vieira said Ivory Coast could make the semi-finals and that all teams from Africa are good.
An injury to Didier Drogba, the absence of Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel (the Chelsea curse, according to the media in England, which also includes Michael Ballack) though could mean Cameroon start as Africa’s favourites.
It is however conjectural whether power, discipline and reliance on Samuel Eto’o is enough for a passage into the second round from a group that also has Holland, Japan and Denmark.
There are other firsts apart from the Cup’s African debut. Like players being booked for feints before taking penalties. Having shaken off the underachievers’ jinx two years ago, Spain could emerge first-time winners.
“A team that can leave Cesc Fabregas on the bench has to be great,” said Sir Geoff Hurst, the World Cup final’s only hattrick man.
At 83, South Africa are the lowest-ranked hosts since the FIFA rankings were introduced in 1992. They didn’t qualify for the African Cup of Nations this time and a first that nobody wants here is the hosts crashing out from the group stages.
This is also the first time since 1986 that the Arab-speaking world isn’t represented by an Asian team. And never before have Australia and New Zealand come to the finals together.
Hurst said good players don’t make great coaches because “being naturals, they often don’t need to think as much about the game as others.” Having never coached in World Cup finals and hardly otherwise, this is the chance for Dunga and Diego Maradona, who’ve met as players in the 1990 finals, to prove otherwise.