Qualifying matches have begun around the world for the football World Cup, which begins in two years. In 2010 the World Cup is to be held for the first time in Africa and attention is focusing on host nation South Africa. In anticipation, sports and tourism officials have assured industry observers and sports fans that the country will be ready. They appeared at a major trade fair in the port city of Durban. Correspondent Scott Bobb was there and has this report.
Football fever was the major theme at South Africa's tourism trade fair in Durban this year. And one of the attractions was an exhibition game of the world's most popular sport.
Organizers of the 2010 Soccer World Cup also launched a major offensive to dispel any doubts about South Africa's readiness when competition begins in two years.
The head of the local organizing committee, Danny Jordaan, told several hundred journalists that construction was ahead of schedule on the 10 stadiums to be used for the matches.
"Progress on the stadiums is very advanced in many cases," he said. "And in some cases we have difficulties. But that is something which every other organizing committee experiences. However, we are convinced that the stadiums will be complete long before kickoff on 11th of July ."
Durban's Moses Mabhiba Stadium under construction Durban's Moses Mabhiba Stadium under construction Durban's stadium, one of several all-new facilities, is rising steadily.
With its 100-meter-high roof-supporting arch the stadium will alter the skyline of South Africa's second largest city. At a cost of several hundred million dollars, it will be the center of a sports city with its own railway station and beachside entertainment park.
Cape Town is also building a brand new stadium at Greenpoint between its famous beaches and Table Mountain. Eight other cities are building or refurbishing stadiums including Johannesburg, which will host the final match.
Jordaan says a major concern is keeping costs down.
"We have been prudent enough to ensure that we remain within budget. And that is a huge challenge," he said. "It requires consistent monitoring, financial discipline."
But he says escalating costs for fuel and construction material cannot be controlled and this requires strict vigilance.
The government is also spending several billion dollars to upgrade airports, highways and other networks to transport the estimated 400,000 visitors who are to attend the event.
Suth Africa's multi-billion dollar tourism industry is also gearing up. The head of South Africa Tourism, Moeketsi Mosola, says nine million tourists came to South Africa last year and 10 million are expected this year.
With such statistics he is certain that the industry will be able to accommodate World Cup fans. Moreover, he promises them a uniquely African experience.
"You wake up in the morning in the middle of a game reserve," Mosola said. "You go for a [game] drive at four a.m. in the morning. We pick you up. We take you, we fly you into Johannesburg to watch a game at three o'clock. You are back in the middle of the bush by seven o'clock, eight, in the evening and you have a dinner in the boma [restaurant]. That is an African experience and that is what is going to make this World Cup absolutely different."
Some of the teams will be training in neighboring countries, such as Namibia and Mozambique, and these are also mobilizing to attract some of the tourism dollars.
Zimbabwe is making a major pitch to attract fans to the famous Victoria Falls. The head of its government tourism agency, Shingi Munyeza, acknowledges that his country is experiencing economic and political problems but says these will not affect visitors.
"A guest is always worried about their safety. On the safety issues we can actually be very comfortable and tell them that you will not be affected by what is going on," Munyeza said. "However, if there is some moral objection of what often happens, that as business people we are not able to address."
As kick-off approaches, Africa's always exuberant soccer fans are getting increasingly excited. Organizers acknowledge that a lot of work remains to be done but everyone here at least is confident that Africa will be ready.