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    South Africa Readies for Excitement of World Cup Draw

    Hundreds of millions of football, or soccer, fans in some 200 countries are expected to tune in Friday for the World Cup draw in South Africa.

    General view of Coca Cola Park in Johannesburg, 01 Dec 2009
    General view of Coca Cola Park in Johannesburg, 01 Dec 2009

    Hundreds of millions of football, or soccer, fans in some 200 countries are expected to tune in Friday for the World Cup draw in South Africa.  The draw determines which teams will play in what groups during Africa's first World Cup.

    The solid gold World Cup trophy arrived in Cape Town Thursday and the executive committee of football's governing body, FIFA, met on historic Robben Island as the final countdown began for next year's World Cup.

    The head of the local organizing committee, Danny Jordaan, said the draw would allow organizers to finalize lodging and transportation arrangements for the 32 teams and the estimated 450,000 fans expected to attend.

    "This is really the real kick off of the World Cup," said Jordaan. "It is about the groups.  It is about the fixtures [games].  It is about the match venues.  So everybody can go into finally fine-tuning their operational plans."

    The names of the 32 teams have been placed into one of four pots.  One team from each pot will be chosen by random to play in each of the eight groups.

    South Africa, as host, has been seeded in the first pot with the world's seven top-seeded teams, as ranked by FIFA.  These include Brazil, Spain, Italy, England, Germany, Netherlands and Argentina.

    This means South Africa will not play any of these teams in the first round.

    The second pot contains teams from Asia, Oceania and North and Central America.  Mexico and the United States are the higher ranked teams in this group, which also includes Australia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, New Zealand and Honduras.

    The third pot contains unseeded teams from Africa and South America.  Ivory Coast and Chile are highly regarded here. They are joined by Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Paraguay and Uruguay.

    The fourth pot includes the unseeded European teams.  France and Portugal are viewed as strong although both struggled to qualify. The remaining teams are Denmark, Greece, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.

    France qualified last month after beating Ireland by a goal scored off a handball by Captain Thierry Henry that was missed by referees.  This led to calls for more referees on the field and the possible use of video replays in important games.

    FIFA head Sepp Blatter acknowledged the controversy but said it was too late to make changes for this World Cup.

    "On the field of play we will have only one referee and two assistants," said Blatter. "This is for 2010.  Definite.  It will not be discussed.  Later on we will see how it works."

    He said a disciplinary committee would examine the violation in the France-Ireland game, which could lead to a one-game suspension for Henry at the start of the tournament.

    Blatter also said the disciplinary committee would examine the incidents that arose after a controversial match between Egypt and Algeria that has strained relations between the two countries.  

    Organizers say Friday's draw will have a distinctly African flavor and the government has spent several billion dollars upgrading stadiums, airports, roads and security services in preparation for Africa's first World Cup.

    Western Cape Province Premier Hellen Zille said hopefully the investment will pay off.

    "We have all taken a leap forward as a country, but we are also doing that because we hope that there will be a return on that investment in terms of tourism," said Zille. "And so it is a calculated investment, and I think that people will be very wise to come and see what we have done."

    Officials say work on the 10 stadiums to be used during the Cup is 95 percent finished.  And FIFA says it has secured most of the 55,000 rooms it requires for the tournament.

    Officials say one-fourth of the three million tickets have been sold.  They expect sales to skyrocket next week after fans learn when and where their favorite teams will play.  
     

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