Soccer City set to light up World Cup

SOCCER CITY, South Africa - Built to look like a vast cooking pot simmering above a ring of fire, South Africa's Soccer City Stadium promises to be an unforgettable venue for next year's World Cup and one of the world's most spectacular sporting arenas. Costing 3 billion rand ($373 million) the 94,000-capacity stadium is distinctive, resembling a huge calabash - a hollowed-out gourd used as a cooking pot or water carrier throughout Africa. The calabash has inspired the colouring of the orange and brown membrane that surrounds the stadium while a ring of lights will illuminate the bottom of the building, simulating fire underneath the pot. When it is completed later this year it will be the biggest stadium in Africa. The stadium, which will host the World Cup final on July 11, 2010, embraces modern technology and will have more than 150 executive boxes commanding superb views of the pitch, comfort for fans and excellent working conditions for the media. A 300-seat restaurant is being completed inside the stadium, with parking for 15,000 cars around the perimeter. Six days a week, between 3,000 and 3,500 construction workers are busy at the site, 10 kms from Johannesburg and on the outskirts of Soweto. Construction was on schedule, even though cost over-runs had resulted from unfavourable exchange rates and the price of the steelwork which was manufactured in Italy and Germany, Rod Pearce, the project manager, told Reuters. DAZZLING MONUMENT "When it is finished it will be the pride not only of South Africa but of the whole continent," he said. "It will be a dazzling monument to what this country can achieve. I think it proves that we as South Africans, and Africans, can compete with the world's best in terms of what can be done here. "There is no reason for us to think we cannot match what every other country in the world can do. This is clearly one of the world's most outstanding stadiums and will be a lasting legacy for generations of South Africa's World Cup." Among the neat touches in the design are windows and seating aligned to point towards the other South African World Cup venues and towards Berlin, the venue for the 2006 World Cup final. The players' tunnel that leads from the dressing rooms to the pitch has been built to resemble the inside of a gold mine, in tribute to the industry that led to Johannesburg's growth into the powerhouse city of the African economy. There are plans to incorporate the result of every match in the World Cup into the tiling of the membrane as games are played -- another lasting testimony to the first finals to be staged on African soil. The stadium, a little similar in shape to Munich's Allianz Arena, was built on the site of the hugely popular FNB Stadium, an old icon in Soweto, part of which is now incorporated into the new construction. MANDELA RALLY The old stadium hosted all South Africa's major soccer matches and was the venue of the country's celebrated win in the 1996 African Cup of Nations. In 1990 more than 100,000 people rallied there to hear Nelson Mandela, newly released from prison, call for a unified South Africa. Work on the new stadium started in January 2007 and is expected to be finished by October, with the surrounding area completed by the end of the year. Soccer City will not only stage the final but the opening match on June 11 and four other first-round matches, one second-round game and a quarter-final. "Work on all the finishings has started," said Pearce. "All the carpentry, the plumbing, the glasswork, the tiling and carpeting is being put in now. The pitch will be laid soon and although it will also be used for rugby eventually it has been built first and foremost as a soccer ground. "It is an astonishing sight," he added. "There are other great buildings in Africa but I doubt if any are quite as spectacular."