by TRAVIS CLARK
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — While the draw was going on on the other side of town, the true celebration of the 2010 World Cup could be seen at a wild party on Long Street. Set up as part of FIFA's Fan Fest, nothing could match the excitement of more than 100,000 South Africans packed into the Mother City's bar district. People littered the street as far as the eye could see, eagerly waiting for a celebration six years in the making.
With a stage set up at the end of the street , and performers scheduled through the night, a vivacious spirit was on display — vuvuzela's sounding off everywhere and the crowd entertaining itself with songs and dance of their own while patiently waiting for the draw to begin. Thousands of fans waited in anticipation, simultaneously awaiting the fate of their beloved Bafana Bafana as well as the first pre-kickoff celebration that provided a small taste of what things will be like here in June.
Adding to the spirit of the people on hand is the fact that this first World Cup hosted by an African country. Though South Africa is much different than many of its fellow African nations, on a local level the emphasis is placed on this being Africa's World Cup. That point makes this tournament even bigger. That, and the belief that FIFA has placed in the country to pull off a difficult undertaking like hosting the world's largest sporting event.
South Africa is poised to do just that — after a few short days in lovely Cape Town, next year's World Cup should be a tremendous success. Whether the hosts can make it out of a tough Group A is another thing. The Long Street crowd booed France when they were drawn, reflecting the negative feelings the group opponents, not to mention Thierry Henry's handball.
Writing off the hosts because of a tough draw isn't fair. Uruguay, Mexico and France will be difficult for a struggling side. The hosts can take confidence from the fact that 90,000 fans will be cheering on the Bafana Bafana next summer, and can look back to 1994, when the United States defied odds to make the second round.
If South Africa can't find the success of past host countries on the field, home fans will still have other countries to root for in their fellow African nations. Ivory Coast, perhaps the best hope of the continent, faces one of the more difficult groups, bunched in with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. Given Portugal's struggle to qualify, Didier Drogba's side should be favored to make its way into the second round. Cameroon is another strong side with a solid group that includes Japan, Denmark and the Netherlands.
With the draw out of the way, and with six months to go before the tournament begins, the focus for the hosts will be to finish the final preparations to ensure the tournament can run as smoothly as possible. If the energy and excitement on display Friday night is any indication, the World Cup will almost certainly be a rousing success next summer.