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S. Africa Optimistic as FIFA  Prepares to Announce 2010 World Cup Host - 2004-05-14

The world football body, FIFA, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, announces its pick for the host country of the 2010 soccer world cup Saturday, and tension in South Africa, one of the front runners, is rising.

The hopes of these 40,000 soccer fans gathered this week in Pretoria at a match featuring the Kaizer Chiefs, the country's favorite team, are now pinned on the 24 FIFA executives in Zurich who will decide Saturday if South Africa will host the 2010 soccer world cup.

This will be the first time soccer's top event is staged in Africa - and South Africa is one of four countries bidding to host it. The others are Egypt, Libya and Morocco. Tunisia withdrew its bid at the last minute. South Africa and Morocco are the front-runners.

South Africa is bidding for the second consecutive time. It lost its bid for the 2006 world cup under controversy when New Zealander Charles Dempsey, the Oceania delegate, defied his union's instruction to vote for South Africa and abstained.

If he had voted as instructed, South Africa would have tied with Germany with 12 votes and FIFA president Sepp Blatter would have used his casting vote in South Africa's favor.

South Africans were shocked, angry and bitterly disappointed. President Thabo Mbeki, standing by on national television to toast a successful outcome, struggled to find the words to soothe a devastated nation.

It remains an open wound for many, but Danny Jordaan, the chairman of this country's bid committee on both occasions, says South Africans have the spirit to overcome disappointment.

?But I think we've got to close the door and move forward and look ahead, and I think we've managed to close the door on other painful experiences in this country. Because of our own experience we cannot build a future on the bitterness of the past - but only look to the future and build on that which is bright and hopeful for our country,? Mr. Jordaan said.

Mr. Jordaan says this country has the skills and capacity to host a world class soccer world cup, and points to 11 well managed international events in 10 years, including the 1995 rugby world cup, the 2003 Cricket world cup, and the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

He says that, in the minds of many in the developed world, there is a contradiction between being world class and being African and that this is something he wants to disprove. His view is shared by soccer fan Phindile Tshlatswayo.

?I hope that we're going to get it. I just hope, we're praying so hard that we can get it so that we can get a chance maybe to prove to the whole world that we can do it,? Mr. Tshlatswayo said.

Mr. Jordaan says holding the world cup in South Africa would be an economic boon for the entire region, foreign investment would pour in and tourism would flourish.

Some of the other bidding countries have pointed to high crime rates in South Africa to weaken its bid. There have also been suggestions that the excellent rating awarded by FIFA's technical committee to South Africa was improper.

As a result, some fans have suggested that South Africa has been too nice in pursuing its goal. But Motsomi Moerane does not share this view, he says South Africa should not resort to smear tactics.

?In South Africa we are used to fair play - as much as we want this to come home, but we have been leading the continent in terms of playing fair, in terms of democracy, in terms - you know, all these justice procedures - that's the position of the country - we want fair play,? he said.

For South Africa's final presentation to FIFA late Friday, Mr. Jordaan has brought with him to Zurich South Africa's leading and most respected citizens. Among them will be former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, current President Thabo Mbeki, Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and this year's Oscar winner, Charlize Theron.

Mr. Mbeki will hurry back to South Africa to be with his people when the announcement is made on Saturday. This time no one has opened the sparkling wine in anticipation but they hope that like these soccer fans in Pretoria, they will have cause to celebrate.