After a wait of four years, kick-off is here. At precisely 7.45pm Nepali time today, South Africa and Mexico will face off in the opening fixture of the 19th World Cup at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Even for the nation that successfully hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup, 2010's FIFA World Cup is seen as a unique opportunity not only to thrust itself into global prominence, but also to honour the entire African continent.
This momentous event has materialised as a result of three years of hard work and massive investment on the part of South Africa. A new international airport north of Durban and 10 new stadiums of 56,000-capacity to host 64 matches along with other investments (such as a high-speed rail link) have cost the state $3.7 billion. This is in addition to the $800 million spent by FIFA. It is estimated that tourism and business receipts will earn the South African economy close to $4 billion, boosting growth from 3% to 3.5%.
As for who will end up hoisting up the FIFA World Cup Trophy, the usual suspects loom large. Brazil fancies its chances of winning the event for the sixth time, but perennial dark horses Spain are considered by many the real favourite this time around, having won all 10 of its qualifying matches. Stars such as Argentina's Messi, Portugal's Ronaldo, and England's Rooney will no doubt give their fans plenty to hope for, and there's no dismissing the dangerous African teams, well known for regular upsets.
And Nepal? We may be be light years away from qualifying, but the World Cup has become a festival to rival any other. The football craze here will feed on the incredible range of promotions by companies such as Coca-cola, Pepsi, LG, Carlsberg and Samsung, with some lucky so-and-sos going all the way to South Africa. Restaurants and hotels will entertain the rest of us with massive screens and stores are all stocked up on football jerseys. Nepali football lovers may live in Nepal, but their hearts will be in South Africa for the next month.
Men with balls