Organizers of the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa are calling Sunday's preliminary draw in the southern city of Durban a success. They say they hope it will put an end to doubts about the African nation's ability to host the event. Correspondent Scott Bobb has details from Johannesburg.
With the singing of Senegal's Youssou N'Dour, organizers of the 2010 soccer World Cup opened the preliminary draw in the South African port city of Durban.
Three-thousand delegates from more than 150 countries and the world soccer organization FIFA attended the glittering event.
The draw set the series of qualification matches that will narrow the field of nearly 200 national teams to 31 which, along with host South Africa, will compete in the finals for the coveted trophy.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, in his welcoming remarks, promised a uniquely African experience for the 400,000 fans expected to attend.
"The world of football will win with Africa, in Africa," he said. "We are very happy indeed that today and in 2010 you will enjoy the African hospitality, the culture and heritage, the splendor and unspoiled natural beauty that is unique to this country and continent."
The head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, said holding the World Cup in Africa for the first time was an overdue act of justice to a continent that has contributed so many great players to the game.
"And now there is no doubt that the 2010 World Cup will be here, will be a big success, no doubt, ladies and gentlemen," he said.
The event was broadcast live to more than 170 countries.
The English delegation appeared dismayed when the draw landed their team in the same qualifying group as Croatia, which only last week eliminated them from the European Cup finals next year (with a 3-2 win in London).
According to the draw the United States could face Cuba for the first time in 60 years. South Korea could face North Korea. China, Australia and Iraq are pitted against each other in one of the toughest groups.
South Africa, as host, automatically qualifies for the finals, which are due to be played in June and July of 2010 in various cities around the country.
Ten stadiums are being built or refurbished for the event. Host cities are upgrading transportation networks and building thousands of additional hotel rooms. And the South African government is beefing up police and law courts in an effort to reduce one of the world's highest crime rates.
Critics at times have cited these factors to question whether the World Cup should be moved to another country. But FIFA officials dismiss the skeptics, saying the preparations are going well.
The organizers, who are eager to show the African World Cup will have something for everybody, closed the show with a performance by three South African opera tenors, called the Afro Tenors.