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2010's dress rehearsal

Simon Austin | 10:24 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

As USA getting to the final suggests, it could be unwise to base your World Cup predictions on the Confederations Cup.

This applies off the pitch as much as on it.

The eight-team tournament won by Brazil was played in just four cities and more than 95% of the crowds were South African.

Next summer will be very different, with 500,000 foreign fans expected to descend on South Africa to watch 32 teams in 10 venues across the entire nation.

Still, the Confederations Cup is the dress rehearsal for the World Cup, South Africa's mock exam before the finals. So how have they done?

brazil595.jpgOn Friday, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said the country had passed with flying colours, declaring the tournament a "tremendous success".

Attendances have certainly been good by previous standards, with an average of more than 38,000 watching the games, according to 2010 supremo Danny Jordaan.

He says this "eclipses" previous tournaments in France in 1997, when the average was 30,000, and Germany in 2005, when it was 37,000.

But there have been empty seats at all of the matches, even at Thursday's semi between Bafana Bafana and Brazil, and Sunday's final, which were both played in Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

There are a number of reasons, ranging from the cost of a ticket being three times what it is for South African Premier League matches, to some of the games - and I'm thinking of Iraq against New Zealand in particular - being less than glamorous.

South Africans are not used to watching football in the cold, dark evenings of winter either, as their Premier League is held in summer.

And there are unlikely to be any empty seats at the World Cup. There have already been more than 500,000 applications for tickets, according to Fifa, and at least 80% of the crowds will be foreign.

The atmosphere at the Confederations Cup has been uniquely African. The noise at Sunday's final was unlike any other match I have been to, with the deafening din of vuvuzelas, the loud plastic trumpets, echoing around the stadium like a giant herd of elephants.

Blatter has voiced concerns about the noise of these instruments but Jordaan says: "Watching football on the African continent is a noisy place.

"Fans come with their horns and drums and in South Africa, the vuvuzela.
"When the matches are filled with say Brazil or England fans at next summer's World Cup, there will be far fewer vuvuzelas."

stadium595.jpgThe Cup has been held in four stadiums - Ellis Park in Johannesburg, the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg and Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria - all of which will be World Cup venues.

Fifa has told the 2010 organising committee that work still needs to be done on these venues, particularly in improving their media facilities, and they do seem old-fashioned.

In contrast, the six brand-new stadiums being built for the World Cup are state of the art.
I have been to three of them - Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth, Moses Mabhida in Durban and Green Point in Cape Town - and they looked absolutely magnificent.

The flagship venue of the World Cup will be the 94,000-seat Soccer City in Soweto, Johannesburg, which will host the opening match and final.

It is due to be finished in December and handed over to Fifa next March and project manager Mike Moody insists it will be unique. The venue is built on the site of the old FNB Stadium, where Nelson Mandela made his homecoming speech after being released from prison in 1990.

"I don't know of any other stadium in the world that is going to have this history," said Englishman Moody. "Who else has got Nelson Mandela?"

Although Soccer City has 15,000 car-parking spaces, the other stadiums are not so well-equipped and Jordaan admits transport has not been good enough at the Confederations Cup.

Public transport to the stadiums has seemed to be non-existant and people walk, drive or get taxis to the venues.

A new "Bus Rapid Transit" system, providing new buses in dedicated lanes, is due to open in Johannesburg by the end of the year. The local taxi drivers are up in arms, but the service is badly needed.

And now on to the issue that most needles Jordaan - crime.

The issue of security has come into the spotlight at the Confederations Cup following thefts at the Brazil and Egypt team hotels.

Lions fans were carjacked outside Johannesburg before the first Test and at the same time there was an awful front-page story about three South African brothers being carjacked, stuffed in the boot and driven to Durban, where one of them died of suffocation.

Jordaan inists: "We are very, very serious about safety. 1.3 billion Rand has been invested in security ahead of the World Cup by the government."

Security at Ellis Park for the Confederations Cup final certainly seemed excellent.
I had my bag checked three times and police lined the main routes leading to the stadium.

Yet, whatever the organisers say, there are no-go areas in the city, where taxi drivers and hotel staff advise you not to go.

On a more positive note, Bafana Bafana's form at the Confederations Cup has created a bit of football fever ahead of the World Cup.

At the start of the tournament, when the hosts were struggling through the group stages, fans and pundits were calling for the heads of coach Joel Santana and captain Aaron Mokoena.

South Africa's march to the semis and excellent performance against Spain in the third-place play-off changed all this, galvanising the country. Jordaan says these performances have drawn in an increasing number of white South African supporters.

"We have about 2.1 million football fans in this country who are white," he says "but their teams are Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. "At the Confederations Cup they have really come out to support Bafana Bafana."

The crowd for the final was the most mixed I have seen at any sporting event, certainly far more so than at the Lions' tour matches this summer. Jordaan admits the fortunes of the national team will be important to the success of the World Cup next year.

"It is very important for the host nation to do well," he says. "We have a young team and they are growing in confidence. It is a huge mountain to climb though."

So what is Jordaan's final verdict on the Confederations Cup?

"Overall we are very happy," he says. "We have to relook the transport strategy and strengthen that, adding buses.

"And we must not celebrate too early - the Confederations Cup is a small event and it doesn't automatically mean the World Cup will be a success."

* For more up-to-the-minute chat, you can follow me on my Twitter feed

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