The 32 teams participating at next year's FIFA World Cup™ finals discovered their fate this evening when the Final Draw for South Africa 2010 took place in Cape Town.
While South Africans learned that the host nation's Opening Match on 11 June would be played against Mexico at Soccer City, it was the Group D lineup which caused arguably the biggest stir. Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana will battle it out for two qualifying places for the Round of 16, meaning two nations with passionate support will depart the tournament early. There could be a high-profile casualty from Group G too, after Brazil, Korea DPR, Côte d'Ivoire, Portugal were drawn together.
An estimated global television audience of 200 million joined the 2,000 invited guests in the Draw Hall in watching the colourful and entertaining ceremony unfold. With African sporting stars such as athlete Haile Gebreselassie, rugby player John Smit, cricketer Makhaya Ntini, and footballers Matthew Booth and Simphiwe Dludlu assisting with the draw, along with England's David Beckham, it was always going to be an exhilarating occasion, but the undoubted centrepiece came when the eight groups were revealed.
An early highlight of the draw was the eye-catching encounter between England and USA, scheduled for 12 June, which evokes the Americans' famous 1-0 win over their transatlantic cousins at Brazil 1950. Argentina, Nigeria and Greece will get the chance to revive their group rivalry from 1994, while the heavyweight collision between Portugal and Brazil on 25 June also has the feel of a derby.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, Korea Republic, Greece
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana,
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, Korea DPR, Côte d'Ivoire, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
Although the dates and locations of each of the 48 group-stage games are known, the kick-off times will be announced shortly, upon conclusion of a meeting between FIFA, the Local Organising Committee and broadcasters.
With such an array of stars, the event dazzled from start to finish. After a welcome sequence from Lions Head, the mountain that provides Cape Town with such a dramatic backdrop, award-winning musician Johnny Clegg performed 'Scatterlings of Africa', a song made famous by the Academy Award-winning film Rain Main.
Fittingly, the first speech of the night came from the man without whom a FIFA World Cup in South Africa would never have been possible: the country's former president Nelson Mandela. The 91-year-old, speaking in a special video message, urged his nation to make the most of their opportunity as tournament hosts. "We must strive for excellence in our hosting of the World Cup, while at the same time ensuring the event leaves a lasting benefit to all our people," he said.
Next it was time for two special presidents to take to the stage. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma showed their excitement at both the Final Draw and the 2010 FIFA World Cup itself in an entertaining dialogue lasting several minutes. Giancarlo Abete, President of the Italian Football Federation, then handed over the holders' FIFA World Cup Trophy to Mr Blatter, confirmation that sport's holy grail is in South Africa and ready to be contested next year.
Legendary Portugal striker Eusebio, born in neighbouring Mozambique, was introduced to the crowd before examples of the 'Win in Africa, With Africa' campaign were showcased before an expectant audience. Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo duly took to the stage to perform her Grammy-nominated song 'Agolo'.
The first duty of the show's guest presenter, Academy Award-winning actress, Hollywood producer and proud South African Charlize Theron, was to show off the official 2010 Match Ball, adidas's Jabulani, a name meaning 'to celebrate' in Zulu. Soweto’s Gospel Choir continued the theme of happiness with a lively rendition of Pata Pata before the arrival of Draw Master and FIFA Secretary General, Jerome Valcke, signalled the moment of truth.
Some of the assembled coaches will have headed away feeling confident, others concerned by the task presented here, yet at least all now know what lies in store as they begin their planning and preparation for next year's showpiece. -FIFA