JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - The Confederations Cup, which came to a colourful climax here on Sunday, has served to dispel any fears or doubts over South Africa's ability to stage what promises to be a memorable 2010 World Cup.
With less than a year on the clock to kick-off at Soweto's stunning Soccer City, players, managers, fans, and crucially FIFA's top brass all gave the rainbow nation the thumbs up.
United States coach Bob Bradley spoke for many when he concluded: "We have had an amazing time in South Africa.
"The way people have treated us like friends, their passion for the game, the security personnel who actually smile, the organisation - in all those ways it's been a great experience and to a man in our squad everyone would say they can't wait to complete the task of qualifying and get back here next year."
The Confed Cup has played an important role in helping South Africa prepare to greet the world next year, this two-week warm-up identifying a number of areas where there is still work to be done.
Perhaps at the top of this list is transport.
Johannesburg's roads are creaking under the weight of traffic and the eagerly-awaited new bus network, not ready in time for the Confed Cup, will be essential to helping fans get to and from matches.
A chaotic park-and-ride service operating at venues like Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Rustenburg will need to work better in 2010.
Security, particularly in the country's state and commercial capitals of Pretoria and Johannesburg, is an issue.
There's probably no more crime here than Paris or London or New York, but its violent nature requires the visitor to be attentive at all times.
FIFA's army of specialists in conjunction with the local organising committee have been quick over the past two weeks to act where the inevitable problems have arisen.
Electricity, for instance, went out to lunch in the cavernous media centre at Ellis Park on the day of the first match, leading to the installation of a private generator to ensure power at all times.
Security checks, conducted always with the utmost charm and courtesy, appeared somewhat haphazard - on one day sniffer dogs were checking bags, on another there was barely a control.
One German journalist had to take his car to be 'sweeped' for bombs at a special centre but, as he said, that's a fairly pointless exercise unless it's conducted every day before a game.
Again towards the end of the competition the security procedures seemed to tighten up.
More than anything the Confed Cup has united a country whose past is blighted with disunity, with blacks and whites standing side by side in the stadiums.
"For me this was a test event for the organising committee and for FIFA, but I must say for South Africa it has been an historic moment," said Irvin Khoza, chairman of the local organising committee.
"Never in the history of this country have we seen South Africans so united on the field of play. The spectators showed that all of South Africa can be united facing the same direction.
"The Confederations Cup has achieved what no other sporting code has achieved. This was the greatest achievement of this tournament."
Organising committee chief executive Danny Jordaan was refusing to get carried away with the success of the Confed Cup given next year's World Cup is an altogether different ball game.
"I think we achieved everything we set out to at this tournament," he said.
"The key issue is that the teams are happy, the media are happy, the commercial partners are happy, and the fans are happy.
"But we are not going to celebrate the plus points but look at the debrief after the tournament to help us deliver the kind of World Cup that we all want to deliver and we will work with FIFA to make that a reality."
|Simeone talks up Hernandez transfer|
|Defensor Sporting 1 Nacional Asuncion 0 (1-2 agg): Visitors into final despite loss|
|United edge Inter on penalties|
|Gerrard: It´s been ´the worst three months of my life´|
|Sabella set to quit Argentina post|
|Toure plans to see out career with City|
|Tevez´s father released after kidnapping|
|Benitez denies Callejon spat|
|Brownhill stunner downs Burnley|
|Sunderland edge out Recreativo|
|Barton and Hoilett earn QPR draw|
|UEFA Champions League Review: Lafata treble puts Sparta in command, Slovan beat Sheriff|
|Gomis opens Swansea account at Exeter|
|Schneiderlin hints at Southampton discontent|
|Scolari makes Gremio return|
|Bojan strike in vain as Schalke beat Stoke|
|Tevez to miss friendly amid kidnap reports|
|Porto sign Jose Angel from Roma|
|UEFA Europa League Preview: Trencin v Hull City|
|Liverpool land Origi|
|UEFA Europa League Preview: Torino return to Europe after 20-year absence|
|Rodriguez and Schneiderlin not for sale, say Southampton|
|Rakitic: Not all about front three|
|Barkley pens new Everton deal|
|Guardiola relishing Chivas friendly|
|Drogba targets Premier League glory|
|Hull make Maguire and Robertson double swoop|
|Perisic blow for Wolfsburg|
|Ibrahimovic scores hat-trick as PSG hammer Kitchee|
|Al-Hilal coach sacked over referee row|
|La Liga boss wants cream of the crop|
|Valencia granted work permit, completes West Ham move|
|Atletico complete deal for Griezmann|
|Reus focused on fitness battle despite ´major European interest´|
|Barcelona announce club-record revenue|
|Bony could be sold for right price, says Jenkins|
|Confidence key for Newcastle, says Taylor|
|Saivet out for four weeks with knee injury|
|Genk part company with Ferrera after just one game of season|
|Gold clarifies Twitter gaffe|
|Vidic adapting to different style at Inter|
|Toulouse bring in Matheus|
|Butragueno backs Rodriguez to cope with pressure|
|Benteke aiming to come back stronger|
|Valdez joins Frankfurt|
|Jovetic ready to shine|
|Simeone hails Griezmann qualities|
|Monk unsure over De Guzman future|
|Benitez: Michu will take time to adjust|
|Diaby confident of staying fit|
|Shaw not fit enough, says Van Gaal|
|MLS Preview: RSL look for attacking spark|
|Monk slaps ´astronomical´ price on Bony´s head|
|Australian clubs looking at Ronaldinho|
|Sinclair enjoying ´one of the best pre-seasons´|
|Spiranovic surgery a success|
|Seattle Sounders 0 Los Angeles Galaxy 3: First-half blitz fires Californians to victory|
|Lemina thrilled with Bielsa effect|
|Bayern´s Green chomping at the bit|
|Palace complete US tour with easy win|
|Carragher: Liverpool didn´t want me|
|Simeone: Atleti´s La Liga triumph was no fluke|
|Sturridge: ´I´ll step up´|
|Van Gaal: Formation gives United flexibility|
|Mathieu insists age is no barrier|
|Martinez the deal sealer, says Besic|
|Coaches embrace blockbuster Serie A start|
|Ronaldinho to leave Atletico Mineiro|
|Lorient capture Ayew|
|Celtic loan Berget, sell Watt|
|Pires signs up for Indian Super League|
|Allegri set for early San Siro reunion in maiden Juve campaign|
|Bakayoko makes Monaco move|
|Bakayoko makes Monaco move|
|Lens granted Ligue 1 place|
|UEFA Champions League Preview: Red-hot Salzburg face Qarabag|
|Parma bring in Cassani from Fiorentina|
|De Vrij set for Lazio|
|BREAKING NEWS: Everton complete Besic signing|
|Kongolo pens Feyenoord extension|
|Redknapp confirms Granero exit|
|Advocaat confirmed as Serbia coach|
|CSL Preview: Henan aim to escape drop zone, Liaoning host Guangzhou RandF|
|Arribas makes Sevilla switch|
|Chambers joins Arsenal|
|Ospina buoyed by Arsenal recruitment|
|Liverpool´s loss is our gain, says Redknapp on Remy|
|Ferdinand: I would still be at United with Giggs in charge|
|Pepe targets Super Cup glory|
|Martinez prioritising striker signing|
|Perez not looking to leave Benfica|
|Klopp itching to work with full Dortmund squad|
|Mourinho: It feels like Drogba never left|
|FIFA asks for FIGC review into alleged racist remark|
|Hull to review Maguire deal|
|Wenger prepared to gamble on Chambers|
|Atletico agree Griezmann deal|
|Irvine planning further striker addition|
|Campbell: Black professionals scared to talk about racism|
|Mata backs Herrera to star in Premier League|
|Injured Rafael returning to Manchester|
|Schmidt demands more from Leverkusen|
|Copa Libertadores Preview: Defensor Sporting banking on home record|
|Remy´s Liverpool move off, confirms Rodgers|
|Inzaghi demands nastiness from Milan|
|MLS Review: Timbers triumph in Montreal, Dallas thwart Vancouver|
|Jovetic ready to lead City line - Pellegrini|
|Lewandowski impresses Ribery, Alaba|
|Colombian Primera A Review: Three clubs remain perfect, Atletico Nacional get off the mark|
|Rodgers: ´We can score goals´ without Suarez|
|Chilean Primera Division Review: Canales brace powers Universidad Chile|
|Atletico Madrid need penalties to edge past Earthquakes|
|Liga MX Review: Monterrey, America stay perfect|
|Paraguayan Primera Division Review: Capiata set pace|
|Brazilian Serie A Review: Cruzeiro win again, Kaka scores|
|Sterling goal sees Liverpool past Olympiacos|
|Peruvian Primera Division Review: Los Caimanes notch maiden win, Inti Gas claim top spot|
|CAF Champions League Review: Zamalek held, Vita Club leave it late|
|Jovetic at the double as Manchester City thrash Milan|