by TRAVIS CLARK
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — With the World Cup draw firmly in the past, the attention can now turn to the final countdown towards the opening match of the 2010 World Cup. An estimated 450,000 fans will descend upon South Africa next year in June and July.
Nine cities will play host during that time, one of those being the city of Port Elizabeth, a lesser-known areas looking to use the cup to increase their international stature.
Port Elizabeth sits in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, renamed that back in 2005 in honor of South Africa's iconic leader. The town of 1.3 million is known as the Friendly City, and the warm hospitality and courtesy of the locals will ensure that things will run smoothly next June.
At the center of it all is the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the first newly-built stadium completed as part of the preparations for 2010. Costing R1.1 million ($150 million), the beautiful structure sits next to a lake close to the center of Port Elizabeth. With a capacity of 46,500, it has already held a number of matches, including a friendly between South Africa and Japan.
The stadium is a proud achievement for the locals, many of whom work in hospitality. While the area isn't quite the touristy hot spot of Cape Town, many South Africans travel out to enjoy the beaches during the summer.
There is hope here that visitors during the World Cup will increase the stature of both the town and municipality, drawing more international travelers.
Eight games will be hosted at the stadium during the cup, with five held during the group stages. Of particular excitement to the people in PE is the arrival of the English to town, as well as the match-up between Potugal and Ivory Coast. On June 12, NMB will host its very first World Cup game when Greece meet South Korea.
The players and fans will be greeted that day by a state-of-the-art stadium. It's an intimate feel, as the seats all sit close enough to the field — even at the top of the third tier, there's an accessibility that will reassure fans who saved money and bought the cheaper tickets.
Like a number of the other stadiums, the big question surrounding NMB remains what will happen to it once the World Cup has come in gone. It is supposed to be used in the community, hosting rugby matches between local teams, as well as a potential home for Bay United FC, the local soccer club. However, that can only happen if the club can win promotion back into the Premier Soccer League.
Whatever happens, it's clear that the fans of England, Portugal, Ivory Coast, Greece and the other traveling fans will be well-taken care of when they reach the Friendly City. It's a place that certainly lives up to its nickname.