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Preparations for Football World Cup Move Into High Gear

Some World Cup matches will be played in the new stadium in Durban, South Africa

It is four months until the kick-off of the first football World Cup in Africa and preparations in South Africa are moving into high gear. Billions of dollars worth of improvements to the country's infrastructure have already been completed while other works still are under construction.

As the clock winds down for the June kick-off of the World Cup, South Africa's national football team has launched an intense series of training camps and friendly matches in preparation.

South Africans are proud to be hosting the World Cup. They see it as an opportunity to showcase their country to hundreds of thousands of visiting fans and a worldwide television audience of hundreds of millions.

The national team's latest matches were held in the Durban's new stadium.

Its soaring steel arch, rising more than 100 meters into the air, has changed the city skyline. The arch has a cable car that takes visitors to the top for breathtaking views of the city and the ocean.

Durban authorities are also refurbishing the city's beachfront promenade and other tourist attractions.

On the night of South Africa's match with Zimbabwe Jan. 27, football fan Nkosinathi Wellington was enthusiastic about the facilities.

"The stadium is perfect for 2010, for the big matches," he said. "The shopping. Also to go to the sea, for the tourism. There is no crime. The police are there. Everything is fine."

The South African government has spent billions of dollars building five new stadiums and refurbishing five others, including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

The head coach of Argentina's national team, Diego Maradona, visited several South African cities in January.

During a visit to Johannesburg's 90,000-seat Soccer City he praised the country's new football facilities.

Maradona, who is viewed as one of the best footballers of recent times, dismissed fears over security. These intensified after a terrorist attack in January killed three people on the eve of the Africa championship in Angola.

He said things happen is the world but he spent a week in South Africa and saw that the people were good and very friendly. He said he had no doubt that it will be a great World Cup and there will be no problem with security.

The head of the South African Organizing Committee, Danny Jordaan, dismissed critics who have constantly questioned whether South Africa could successfully host an event of this size.

"First you said the stadiums will never be finished. That was your perception. The reality is all the stadiums are done," he said. "Then you said, no, they are going to run out of money before everything is in place. It did not happen. That was your perception. You were wrong."

The South African government has invested millions of dollars in improving transportation, accommodation and other tourism facilities. It is also training 40,000 additional police officers and buying millions of dollars worth of law enforcement equipment.

The fourth phase of ticket sales was launched on Feb. 9. Officials say two-thirds of them have been bought and 11 of the 64 matches have already been sold out.

Durban university student Colin Mtembu predicts a great World Cup
Durban university student Colin Mtembu predicts a great World Cup

South African fans do not need reassurances. They, like Durban university student Colin Mtembu, predict a great World Cup.

"Africa is ready. Please come and support your countries," he said. "And we'll have a blast, eh?"

The South African government hopes the World Cup will create thousands of jobs, boost the economy and make the country a major world tourism destination. For the fans, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the celebrations and see the world's greatest football players compete at home in Africa.