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Obama may attend 2010 World Cup opening ceremony

On the day after the semi-final line-up was dramatically set at the Confederations Cup, South Africa took a deep breath and FIFA President Sepp Blatter revealed that US President Barack Obama may attend the opening ceremony of the World Cup next year.

world Updated: Jun 23, 2009 13:13 IST

On the day after the semi-final line-up was dramatically set at the Confederations Cup, South Africa took a deep breath and FIFA President Sepp Blatter revealed that US President Barack Obama may attend the opening ceremony of the World Cup next year.

According to reports, Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, told Blatter that he would be there if his schedule at the time allowed it. But Blatter said that "he has accepted our invitation."

In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama has accepted a meeting with Blatter, "but we have not yet altogether made plans."

But Gibbs, a one-time football player in college, quipped that a "small group of us have assembled in order to move the president" toward attending the World Cup next year.

Blatter also again told the media that South Africa would be ready to host the World Cup, "there is no doubt," he said the day after the US and Brazil joined Spain and the hosts in the last four.

"In the past, the World Cup has never been staged in Africa because people in the rest of the world did not trust Africa," he continued.

"I trust Africa and South Africa," he said emphatically. "It is time the world did the same thing. The world will see a fantastic spectacle in Africa in 2010. South Africa are going to make everyone proud of Africa."

Blatter also said it would commemorate the 2003 death of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe before the final of the tournament at Ellis Park on Sunday.

Foe, who collapsed on the field and died of an undiagnosed heart ailment in the Confederations Cup semi-finals, was Blo26. "When the teams are assembled before kick-off, we will have a brief message for the world about what happened," said Blatter.

The head of the world governing body of football said that FIFA had gone to great lengths to avoid such tragedies since, testing all players in their competitions for the same heart issue.

"One of the legacies of Marc-Vivien Foe's unfortunate death, and of having the World Cup in Africa, is that FIFA is providing medical care and aid where we possibly can," he said.

Blatter and FIFA's secretary general Jerome Valcke also discussed worries that the new stadiums being built for the event would sit empty after the World Cup.

"We've discussed this, and we'll work on it with the organisers post-World Cup," said Valcke. "We do not want white elephants, as is the case sometimes in cities chosen for the Olympics."

Blatter was optimistic, saying: "These modern stadiums have many uses. You can also have exhibitions, concerts, etc. It's a question of organisation."

A day after Brazil became the second team to claim to have possessions stolen from their hotel, along with Egypt, the organisers of the World Cup attempted to address concern over the safety for visitors at the event. Around 50 people are murdered each day and over 100,000 armed robberies are reported every year in South Africa.

The chief executive of the organising committee Danny Jordaan and deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula pointed to the relative lack of crime at the Confed Cup as proof that next year's showpiece event would be safe.

"Overall the Confederations Cup has been successful from the point of view of security," Mbalula said in Johannesburg. He admitted that there had been a few reported incidents of thefts or attempted thefts, but these were "isolated incidents" and not "major security breaches."

Local media later questioned Egypt's claims about money stolen, saying that they had invited prostitutes into their room and then been robbed. The Egyptians emphatically denied this. And Jordaan seemed to downplay the Brazilian reports as well.

"Thefts from hotels happened in Germany," Jordaan said, referring to the 2006 World Cup. "You can't leave it (money) on the table and go say you were robbed."

Jordaan did admit that transportation worries needed to be fixed after supporters complained about long delays in the stadium park-and-ride systems.

For the four teams left in the competition, most rested or travelled ahead of Wednesday's and Thursday's semi-finals.

The first contest will see the world's No.1 team, Spain, trying to break Brazil's record for most consecutive international matches without defeat, 35, against the United States.

The US jumped from bottom of Group B to second place on Sunday night when they beat Egypt 3-0 and Brazil beat Italy by the same score to send the States through on the goals scored tie-breaker.

Spain's left back Joan Capdevila revealed that the Spanish team were glued to their televisions watching the concurrent matches the night before.

"We watched the Brazil and Italy match for the first half," he said. "But we switched to the other match because that was full of emotion."

The contest between the European and North American champions will take place at Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium. The second semi-final will see the hosts take on five-time World Cup winners Brazil in Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

First Published: Jun 23, 2009 13:07 IST