Africa's long road to 2010
"The World Cup is coming to Africa - I can't believe it. It just makes me believe that anything is possible."
The words of a female DJ as I listened to the radio in Lesotho just 10 days ago. An attitude which encapsulates the wonder many are feeling across Africa - still incredulous that the planet's biggest sports event is coming here.
To the only continent never to have hosted the Olympics nor the World Cup. Until now that is.
For those living in South Africa itself, the incredulity goes even deeper. Twenty years ago, hosting the World Cup was an impossible dream. Still under the grip of apartheid, South Africa was a pariah state, banned from football by Fifa, and the prospect of playing any match, let alone hosting the world, was a mere flight of fancy.
But now we're a month away from a tournament which many, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fully expect to change Africa's poor global standing - broadly known for such negative images as war, famine, HIV/Aids corruption - while the more football-minded simply hope a new playing generation will shine brightly in 10-15 years' time, as those who grew up inspired by Africa's first World Cup hit maturity.
"I'm hoping an African side can do really well, perhaps even win it," says former South Africa defender Mark Fish. "Then we can ask Fifa why we can't have seven, eight, perhaps even nine teams representing Africa in future World Cups."
That the World Cup is in South Africa is largely thanks to the efforts of Fifa chief Sepp Blatter and former anti-apartheid activist Danny Jordaan, who's been working relentlessly since 1994 to get the unlikely dream off the ground.
Yet the foundations were laid many years ago. The 1966 World Cup is not the most obvious turning point but that year Africa boycotted the finals in protest at the allocation of one place between Asia and itself at the 'World Cup'.
Workers are still putting finishing touches to areas around Cape Town Stadium
The dramatic move - which came exactly 100 years after the continent's first recorded football match - worked, for Africa had its own representative at the next finals.
1974 was also a significant milestone. Not at the World Cup though, where the maiden sub-Saharan appearance was a disaster as Zaire (now DR Congo) lost all their matches with a 0-14 goal record.
However, the real nadir came when Mwepu Ilunga infamously ran out of the wall to hammer away a Brazilian free-kick - the African champions attracting widespread ridicule for not knowing the rules.
But that year, Joao Havelange used dozens of African votes to win the Fifa presidency off Sir Stanley Rous - and the game changed forever, booming commercially.
The Brazilian had promised the continent its own prizes in return, which came as the World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 1982, meaning Africa now had two places, while Fifa's inaugural youth tournaments were held in Tunisia (the U20s in 1977) and Nigeria (what is now the U17 World Cup in 1985).
Had a certain Mr Dempsey not come along, Africa might already have staged the World Cup but Blatter acted decisively following that voting failure in 2000.
One month later, he oversaw the installation of Fifa's rotation system and one year later, Africa was chosen to start the new policy - which explains Blatter's rare popularity here.
"We're very grateful to Fifa and Blatter," says Fish.
"The journey of African football has been a long one and South Africa, from the apartheid era to the democratic elections of 1994, has also come a long way. Now it's a massive step to be hosting the world's biggest sporting event on our continent."
Africa has displayed its enormous passion for football time and again, and many more tales will emerge during what could be the most colourful World Cup to date. And with the finals providing the greatest 31-day commercial for the continent, pride will swell from Cape Town to Cairo and from Dakar to Dar-es-Salaam.
In a land crippled by nepotism and corruption, football is a rare meritocracy - an area where an individual can rely on his own talents to move up in the world. By coincidence or not, it's also one of few areas where Africa does not just live with the best but beats them too.
The life story of George Weah, who rose from a Monrovian slum to be crowned the world's best footballer in 1995, is still an inspiration to many.
Football even had the capacity to briefly stop his homeland's civil war since Liberia matches in the 1990s would, to quote the current president, 'bring sudden voluntary ceasefires between the warring factions' as they joined their enemies to watch the games.
"It is in our hands to unite our country, our continent and the world in a footballing feast," South African President Jacob Zuma said yesterday.
Now where's that damned vuvuzela?