Unless you have spent the last 12 months living on a yak sanctuary in Outer Mongolia you cannot fail to know that the World Cup 2010 kicks off on June 11th when the home side (known affectionately as Bafana Bafana) faces Mexico in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.

South Africa, as anyone who has visited this expansive and picturesque country will tell you, is a nation obsessed with soccer. Teams such as Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows attract the same kind of fanatical following as Juventus, Ajax, Barcelona or Arsenal.

This will be a momentous World Cup competition, since it is the first time that an African country has been chosen to host this eagerly awaited event. South Africa was seen as having a head start on its final rivals, Morocco and Egypt, since it already had most of the infrastructure in place and merely required improvement, with some additional stadia being required in locations such as Rustenburg.

Despite some nervous moments when it was rumoured that the tournament might be relocated due to construction delays on some of the stadia and training camps, the scene is now set and the South Africans are hoping to welcome football crazy visitors who will arrive to see some exciting matches and hopefully return at a later date to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, vibrant culture and quirky cuisine.

The South African organisers have been offered a key opportunity to market their country to the world, a chance that they have seized enthusiastically. The official mascot, a green haired leopard called Zakumi, is bound to be popular with younger football fans, although a humorous warning has been issued: “Don’t worry – he won’t eat the players!”

Whether or not Bafana Bafana reaches the final on Sunday 11th July, South Africa will be infinitely the richer for having had this opportunity to display itself on such a prestigious global stage.