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Goal.com recently visited the opening and final game venue for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and Soccer City was a truly majestic sight…

It had been about three or four months since the last time I had seen Soccer City, and I was aware that the arena was nearing completion, but the stadium was an impressive sight from the moment I approached it.

I drove down to the stadium, and it was an exhilarating feeling turning into Nasrec road and suddenly seeing the mosaic calabash figure filling the horizon in the distance. The feeling of goosebumps and excitement was probably a mix of my South African pride and the incredible feeling of accomplishment in the face of many doubters, with regards to the first African World Cup and specifically the issue of stadium readiness.

The ability of South Africa to host a fine World Cup has been questioned many times over the last few years, but a visit to Soccer City will do wonders for those who are still skeptical when it comes to the hosting of football’s greatest competition.   An arena with a seating capacity surpassing that of the new Wembley, the Johannesburg venue will host eight games during the 2010 event, including the opening match and ceremony and of course the final on 11 July.

Revil Baselga was our tour guide for the day, and he showed us around the Soccer City stadium while explaining a number of interesting facts. The architectural design of the stadium was selected from a series of concept designs, which were meant to represent Africa.

The calabash, or African pot design, proposed by Boogertman Urban Edge + Partners was selected as being the most recognisable object to represent what would automatically be associated with the African continent and not any other.   Baselga explained that the calabash is meant to represent a melting pot of African cultures, which sits on a raised podium, on top of which is located a ‘pit of fire’. Thus the pot sits in a depression, which is the ‘pit of fire’, as if it were being naturally fired.

The pot’s façade is made up of laminated fibre reinforced concrete panels, in a selection of eight colours and two textures that make reference to the shades and textures of the calabash. The pot is punctured by open or glazed panels which create a suggestion of pattern on the façade that comes into its own when the inside volumes are illuminated.

Upon the façade 10 vertical slots can be seen, which are aligned geographically with the 9 other 2010 stadia, as well as the Berlin stadium. These are representative of the road to the final, and it is hoped that, after the World Cup, the scores of each game at each venue will be placed in pre-cast concrete panels on the podium. A visit to the stadium will thus provide one with a full history of the World Cup and all its scores.

The media press conference room at Soccer City Stadium is being prepared before a state of the art media makeover comes into play. The guide explained that the latest technology will be used to make the stadium modern in terms of the technical, sound system and media equipment side of things.

As for transport to the stadium, the site is directly north of the proposed new Nasrec Transportation Hub and pedestrian mall, linking the stadium to the redeveloped Expo Centre to the south. The transportation hub will accommodate taxi, bus, and rapid transit services, thus providing good public transport links to the precinct and the stadium.

A secondary Bus Rapid Transit station is also proposed on the Soweto highway to the north of the stadium, which will further strengthen the public transport links to the stadium. All of this is to be set in a revamped Nasrec precinct, which will boast new roads, and pedestrian walkways with lighting, signage, landscaping, CCT, and public amenities.

Lucky enough to have been guided around the stadium by Mr Baselga, I was able to take a look at the pitch, which had been planted in August and was growing nicely. No one was allowed to walk on the grass, but Baselga expected it to be a fine pitch by around February or so.

The tour took me through the players' tunnel at the middle of the pitch, where World Cup stars will be entering the pitch before the games, which will shape the story of the 2010 showpiece event. Walking out of the tunnel and towards the pitch had a magical effect, and if it were not for some pitch side work that was being carried out, I may have felt what it was like to walk onto the pitch of a World Cup final venue.

Up in the stands I found what will be considered one of the cheapest seats in the stadium, but the fact is there are no bad seats in the place, as no obstructive views mean that even those seats at the very top of the 91,000 seat stadium have a fine view of the entire pitch. It was quite something.

Finally it was time to visit the VIP area, which was still being completed, but the view from inside the room and out on the balcony will certainly allow the likes of Sepp Blatter, Nelson Mandela and other important individuals to have a five star experience at any of the Soccer City games.

Soccer City is a majestic stadium, and it will be a true gem come July 2010, when the world will be watching South Africa and the World Cup champions will be crowned on a podium in the venue. Africa can be proud of a fine stadium, which will no doubt contribute in a big way to a fine World Cup.

Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com

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