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INTO AFRICA: World Cup enters new territory
by Mike Woitalla, November 26th, 2007 7AM

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Mike Woitalla reporting from South Africa
"Africa is ready, Africa's time has come. Africa is calling, come to Africa in 2010," said South Africa President Thabo Mbeki to launch the 90-minute gala that sorted out the qualifying competition for the next World Cup while celebrating the arrival of the world's biggest sporting event to the continent for the first time.

Capping a week in which FIFA executives and foreign media evaluated South Africa's preparations, FIFA President Sepp Blatter followed Mbeki onto the stage in Durban, the city on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

"It's the kickoff, it's the window to South Africa," Blatter said. "Now there's no doubt that the 2010 World Cup will be a big success."

In South Africa, hosting the World Cup has been described as the nation's coming out party following its 1994 baptism as a democracy. Mbeki, who returned from 28 years in exile in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, succeeded Mandela as president in 1999.

"The World Cup will be a significant catalyst which will assist our efforts as a country and continent [in the post-Apartheid era]," said Mbeki.

The images presented at the draw celebrated what Mandela dubbed the "Rainbow Nation." Mandela turned 89 last July and has retired from public life. But among the performers at the draw were the Soweto String Quartet, one of Mandela's favorite groups.

Under the theme of "Africa is the theater, South Africa is the stage," entertainment included Zulu drummers, a chorus from the "The Lion King," South African pop group "Freshlyground," and Senegalese singer Yousssou N'Dour.

While the "The Three Tenors" -- Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti -- have had a presence at previous World Cups, the draw ended with the Afro Tenors. Agos Moahi, Given Mabena and Lucky Sibandan performed their version of "Nessun Dorma."

American goalkeeper Kasey Keller was among the soccer stars assisting with the draw, and with his first effort pulled his nation's name out of the bowl to set up a clash with either Barbados or Dominica.

Other players included South African legends Kaizer Motaung, Jomo Sono and Lucas Radebe. Motaung and Sono both played in the North American Soccer League during the Apartheid era and founded South African clubs - the Kaizer Chiefs and the Jomo Cosmos -- upon their return.

"The United States presented a magnificent opportunity for me," Sono said on the eve of the draw. "I was a man in two worlds. In my own country, I was not considered a citizen, but in America I was accepted and respected as a black man."

Former Liberian star George Weah announced the "Football for Hope" project in which FIFA will contribute $500 for every goal scored in the 861 qualifying games to raise money for youth soccer centers across Africa as part of a contribution of at least $10 million.

Before the draw, the World Cup organizers announced a ticket plan to ensure that low-income South Africa residents will be able to attend games. Lowest priced Category 4 tickets will cost $20, compared to the 2006 World Cup's cheapest tickets of $51. Category 4 will make up 15 percent of the 3 million tickets. Also, 120,000 tickets will be distributed free to low-income residents.

Between now and the kickoff on June 11, 2010, World Cup organizers will continue to address the main concerns - timely stadium construction, transportation and crime (see story on Friday's murder of former Austrian pro Pieter Burgstaller). World Cup Organizing Committee CEO Danny Jordaan insists the government's massive investment in the tournament will provide long-term benefits.

"It will place South Africa on the global stage," Jordaan said before the draw. "It will strengthen our democracy. It will strengthen and consolidate the process of nation-building.

"Let's not forget we virtually had a situation where we had two nations. One black, and one white, that was at war with itself for many years. We are building a non-racial democratic South Africa that everyone in the country, whether you're black or white, you must have space and a place in this country. The World Cup will help that.

"A major-event success has the ability to bind a nation and I'm sure Germany, which was a divided country [until 1990], is a better place as a result of hosting the 2006 World Cup. And South Africa will be a better nation after the 2010 World Cup."



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