Colorful Soccer City to open and close World Cup

With 94,000 seats, the two-tiered bowl has the biggest capacity in Africa, but Soccer City will be restricted to 87,000 for the World Cup because of the need to keep rival fans apart.

JOHANNESBURG  _ Soccer City, the stadium that will host the opening and closing games of the world’s biggest football tournament, encapsulates South Africa’s World Cup _ colorful, traditional and hope for a brighter future.

Situated on the outskirts of Soweto, the huge township in southwest Johannesburg that mirrors South Africa’s emergence from the grim past of apartheid, the breathtaking stadium has risen against a background of the gigantic mine dumps created by the gold digs that brought the city its wealth.

With 94,000 seats, the two-tiered bowl has the biggest capacity in Africa, but Soccer City will be restricted to 87,000 for the World Cup because of the need to keep rival fans apart.

The stadium will host five group matches, including the June 11 opening game between South Africa and Mexico, one second round match, one quarterfinal match and the final. Other scheduled games are the Netherlands vs. Denmark on June 14; Argentina vs. South Korea on June 17; Brazil vs. Ivory Coast on June 20 and Ghana vs. Germany on June 23.

Manu Mabaso, a construction worker who helped build the stadium, has a ticket to the opening game.

“Every day when I woke up I had to pinch myself that it was really happening,” the Orlando Pirates fan said. “It was almost a dream but, when I got to the stadium, I could see it for real.

“To me Soccer City is like a beautiful lady and, by the time of the World Cup, she will have all her best clothes on.”

What appears to be a brand new stadium is in fact a reconstruction of an existing one, the cost of rebuilding being 3.3 billion rand ($440 million). The only part that remains from the previous structure is a portion of the old west stand, its dark gray color in stark contrast to the sweep of orange seating which goes all around.

The outside is a dappled mixture of fire and earthen colors which represent the calabash, the traditional African cooking pot.

Inside, the stands have 10 black vertical lines which are lined up to face each of the other nine venues plus the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, host for the last World Cup final in 2006.

The plush new offices of the South Africa football federation are outside and, after the World Cup, the stadium will not only stage some of the national team’s home games but also cup finals and big provincial matches, particularly those involving the nation’s two most popular clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

During the run-up to the World Cup and afterward, Soccer City will also be a tourist attraction with organized tours of the stadium for visitors from overseas and all over South Africa. A generation ago, such a project would have been unthinkable with the civil rights of the black majority severely restricted by a regime run by the white minority.

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