Johannesburg: World leaders and celebrities swarmed Johannesburg on Sunday for the World Cup finale between the Netherlands and Spain, capping the first tournament ever held on the continent.
The 2010 host revelled in the last moments of the football spotlight for a final expected to draw 500 million viewers and a last chance to showcase an event which has largely conquered sceptics’ fears about South Africa’s ability to pull it off.
“We are coming to the end of a historic, vibrant and very African FIFA Soccer World Cup,” said President Jacob Zuma on the eve of the final.
“As we look forward to the final match between the Netherlands and Spain, let us pat ourselves on the back for a job well done so far.”
Zuma called for celebrations to continue until the last whistle in Africa’s first World Cup.
“Let us keep celebrating, let the vuvuzelas keep blowing and let the football festival continue at Soccer City and the fan parks until the final whistle. This has been a truly inspiring, moving and uplifting month.”
Tickets to the sold-out final are the hottest in the country, with the 140- to 900-dollar (110- to 710-euro) seats reselling for up to 2,500 dollars online.
Some fans swam across a crocodile-infested river, tattooed themselves in sensitive places or waxed their entire bodies in an effort to win tickets from a local radio station.
The rich, famous and powerful will also be in the stands with FIFA on Saturday listing 17 heads of state expected, plus two Nobel laureates, a raft of Hollywood stars, Queen Sofia of Spain as well as Prince Albert of Monaco -- with his South African fiancee.
“Africa can be proud, South Africa even more so and African football can also be proud,” FIFA president Sepp Blatter said ahead of the final.
“We are almost at the end, but I am a satisfied president.”
The football body says overall attendance at all World Cup matches has topped three million, only the third tournament to do so.
Organisers again encouraged fans to arrive early at the showcase Soccer City stadium after bumper-to-bumper traffic the day of the first match made many ticket-holders miss the opening ceremony.
Gates will open four hours before the 1630 GMT closing ceremony, which will feature Colombian superstar Shakira, South African Grammy-winning vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and more than 700 performers.
“We’re really urging people to arrive early,” said Derek Carstens, marketing chief for the local organising committee.
“We expect a full house, and we’re saying to people to come and make the most of this event.”
The South African police (SAPS) said fans without tickets should not go to the stadium, urging fans to use public transport. Road and air traffic restrictions near the stadium will be in place.
“Sufficient SAPS and (army) members and resources will be in place to ensure the safety of teams, fans and VIP guests expected to attend the closing ceremony and the final in Soweto,” the national security centre said.
Extra flights from the Netherlands and Spain were jetting into Johannesburg as supporters scrambled to be part of the historic final that will see a first-time winner among either teams.
Throughout the Netherlands entire streets were lined with orange flags and some homes have been covered with plastic sheets in the national colour.
And in Spain, at least 150,000 fans of La Roja (the Reds) are expected to cram Madrid’s main Paseo de Castellana avenue to witness the country’s first ever appearance in a World Cup final on giant screens in a fan park.