Dispatches From South Africa: World Cup Excitement Reaches Fever Pitch On Football Friday

Daily Soccer Fix's Steve Davis gives us this report from South Africa, where the locals aren't even attempting to contain their excitement over hosting the 2010 World Cup. Nor should they.

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Dispatches From South Africa: World Cup Excitement Reaches Fever Pitch On Football Friday

PRETORIA, South Africa - Nothing says, "Welcome, world!" like vuvuzelas at 6 a.m. 

Even where I am, in a quiet suburb just beyond the U.S. camp, I could hear the beautiful music of the ubiquitous plastic horns, the sound of South Africa 2010, out of my window before sunup.

It's Football Friday here today. The workweek has ended with Football Fridays for two months now, as everyone wears their yellow jerseys in support of Bafana Bafana, South Africa's soccer team. Of course, this is one is the Football Friday.

Opening ceremonies were this morning at Soccer City, the newly opened ground just a few miles beyond the Johannesburg city center.

Fans blowing their vuvuzela, some head to toe in Bafana Bafana kit, began arriving five hours before this historic match, the first contest in the historic first World Cup held in Africa.

Just a few days before, an estimated crowd of 180,000 showed up for a parade to officially welcome their South African team. It reminded me of Germany's massive street party near the end of the 2006 World Cup. Of course, that was after the team had spent a month capturing hearts and imaginations and making Germans feel OK about showing national pride again. This parade came a few days before the soccer's quadrennial extravaganza evens begins!

This tournament has captured a country in a way I don't believe has ever been done before. I started covering World Cups in 1994, so I couldn't say much about what happened in previous years. But given the today's enhanced media platforms (nuclear tipped by comparison to 1990 and before) that increase the pace of awareness, and given the general faster pace of life, I cannot imagine any tournament has so fully consumed a nation as this one.

South Africans aren't just excited about their team playing in the tournament, nor even about the prospect of a month-long soccer festival, the way folks are back in the United States and other lands. Here, they seem fiercely proud of their role as hosts, raising heads high not only as representative of their country, but also happy to be representing Africa.

There are 11 languages spoken officially here in South Africa, but they are all saying the same things today.

"It is such a beautiful thing, the way everyone in this country is coming together for this," our shuttle driver told us just last night outside Johannesburg.

The excitement and passion on display here is absolutely off the charts. World Cup emersion has completely hijacked the news shows. All of them. Business shows talk about economic impact of the World Cup. The morning shows are full of African dancers paying homage to the event in their way, with their hopping, asymmetrical, joyful routines. Weather reports mention how the sun, wind, rain, etc., will affect training and matches and, of course, today's remarkable opening ceremonies.

If it were America, Martin Lauer would be in a U.S. kit, tossing a soccer ball up and down on the Today Show as he waxed athletic about teams, star players, travel tips on getting around for the matches and the best opportunities for souvenir hunting.

On one morning show here today, the anchor spent about three minutes pleading with all criminals, from the thugs in the shantytowns to the slick pick pockets in the train stations and airports to the opportunists in the posh suburbs, to knock it off for the next 30 days, for Pete's sake.

Every commercial seems to have a World Cup theme. Headlines over every possible World Cup topic are strewn across every newspaper here. The multicolored flags of South Africa hang off every other automobile, at least.

So many infrastructure projects were attached to this tournament, and most targets were met, so there's even a practical value to the event.

This is truly an amazing moment for this country, one that's only 16 years old, after all, and not terribly far removed from fears of an outright race war. Nelson Mandela formally ended apartheid in 1994, but the country's legacy will long be hamstrung by the ugliness that marked that former era. The world will now have something that can come quickly to mind at the mention of South Africa - and that's hardly lost on the population here.

FIFA does a lot of things wrong, but their bold decision to put the 18th World Cup here is looking like a master stroke at this point - for it really is doing something to make the people of a beautiful land feel great about themselves.

They will feel even greater if Bafana Bafana can hold their nerve today. Heaven only knows what this country will be like if South Africa can overcome Mexico in Soccer City. 

Steve Davis is reporting from South Africa throughout the 2010 World Cup. You can read more of his thoughts at SB Nation's Daily Soccer Fix.

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