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South Africans Excited on Eve of Confederations Cup

The world's top football teams are in South Africa preparing for the opening Sunday of the Confederations Cup tournament. Football officials say all is ready for the competition, viewed as a mini-World Cup.

Football officials say everything is set for Sunday's opening of the football Confederations Cup, which is seen as a dry-run for next year's World Cup being hosted by South Africa for the first time.

The head of the Local Organizing Committee, Danny Jordaan, called it a rewarding moment, saying South Africa had been seeking since the end of apartheid 15 years ago to host the first World Cup on African soil.

"Well, it has been a long journey, you know," said Jordaan. "A journey that started in 1994 and now those hopes and dreams have become a reality. The stadiums in each of the cities are now a reality. We are selling the tickets. The teams are arriving. And this is a dream come true."

The two weeks of matches pit 2006 World Cup winner Italy against the host South African team and regional cup winners Brazil, Spain, Egypt, Iraq, New Zealand and the United States.

The eight teams, divided into two groups, play a round robin of three matches. And the first and second-place teams from each group then play a series of elimination matches to determine a champion.

Jordaan led South African President Jacob Zuma and other senior officials on a visit to the stadium under construction in Cape Town.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Zuma was presented with the Cup trophy before South Africa's parliament.

"I am convinced that for the first time in the history of this continent, we are likely to make history that it [Confederations cup] remains here," he said.

Officials say more than 70 percent of the 640,000 tickets have been sold. The stadiums in four South African cities are ready. And 4,000 volunteers have been recruited from about 40,000 applicants to help visitors.

Transportation officials have been obliged to hire private buses and drivers after the launch of a new rapid-transit bus system was postponed. Private operators opposed the new system because they feared it would hurt their livelihoods.

And police officials said army troops had been recruited to help boost security and create safe zones around the stadiums.

Organizers for years have had to counter critics who said a high crime rate and lack of adequate infrastructure would mar the tournament, especially during the World Cup, which is expected to attract about 400,000 foreign fans next year.

But South Africans are excited and talk shows are abuzz over the upcoming competition.

Johannesburg resident Athi Babuseng said he believed the skeptics would be proved wrong.

"I think we are going to make it even though we have critics about our World Cup, we are going to make it," said Babuseng. "Our country is so good. We are going to host this World Cup and it is going to be successful"

South Africa and Iraq open the competition Sunday, followed by a match between Spain and New Zealand. The other four teams play on Monday.