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."
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