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Football Fever Seizes S. Africa on Eve of Football Confederations Cup

Football (soccer) fever is gripping South Africa as the nation prepares to take the international sporting stage Sunday with the opening of the Confederations Cup.

The six continental football champions Sunday join World Cup winner Italy and host South Africa for the first Confederations Cup on African soil.

The eight teams-which also include Brazil, Spain, Egypt, Iraq, New Zealand and the United States-have already held several training sessions before celebrating fans.

The head of football's governing association, Sepp Blatter of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), told reporters Friday he is more than satisfied with the preparations and looked forward to the excitement generated by the game of football.

"It's the game of the world," he said. "And it is the game also of Africa. And I'm very happy to be back on the African continent and especially in this case, in South Africa. I really feel at home here."

The tournament, which is seen as a warm-up for next year's World Cup kicks off Sunday afternoon with a match between South Africa and Iraq, the Asia Cup champions.

On Sunday evening, Italy plays New Zealand, the Oceania Cup winners. The remaining four teams play on Monday.

Organizers say stadiums in the four match cities, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, are ready.

The chairman of the Organizing Committee, Irvin Khoza, dismissed concerns over security by noting that South Africa has hosted more than 100 international events, including recent cricket and rugby series, without incident.

"The record is there," he said. "The capacity is there and the experience is there. This country has got a history. Of any major events that have taken [place] in this country, it was all secured."

"So we are confident with the security plan that has been put in place for the Confederations Cup and also for the organizing of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. And we are more than satisfied," he added.

Ticket holders will receive free transportation to the games through 3,000 private buses hired by organizers.

Football fanatic Saddam Maake calls himself South Africa's number one supporter. Dressed entirely in his team colors of yellow and green and sporting an outlandishly decorated hat and super-size glasses, he flashes the fistful of tickets he has bought to almost all of the games.

"We are ready," said Maake. "We are going to support each other. We are going to say to all the countries who come here, you are my brother and my sister from another mother. Long live South Africa, long live."

The opening ceremonies are being staged by South African producer Lebo M, who won a Grammy award for his work on the stage production of the Lion King. He has promised a vividly African performance using more than 700 children.