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World Cup doubters were wrong: South Africa hosted a great tournament

With the World Cup final match between Netherlands and Spain tonight, South Africa confounds skeptics who predicted high crime rates and inept management of the World's largest sports event.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / July 11, 2010

HAPPY CROWD: Netherlands fans wait outside Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sunday before the start of the World Cup soccer final match between Spain and the Netherlands.

Jerome Delay/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

Here’s a question I haven’t thought about for about a month: Can South Africa really hold the World Cup?

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With the final match between Spain and Netherlands looming tonight, the World Cup is almost over. Day in and day out, South Africa has shown itself to be every bit as capable as Germany, Athens, or Beijing to hold a major sports event. The skeptics were many, and the skeptics were wrong.

Three hundred thousand foreign visitors came to these games, and while not all of them were happy with their team’s performance – this isn’t kindergarten, where everyone comes out a winner – most of them have gone home safe and sound, and impressed with the host nation.

This wasn’t the script that the tabloid press had written for this event. One British tabloid interviewed drugged up gang leaders in Cape Town, and predicted that armed gangs would swoop down on the helpless tourists like hyenas at a school picnic. Others predicted that unions would go on strike – they very nearly did – or that Al Qaeda cells would target the US and English teams. Agence France-Presse even warned about the baboons of Cape Point, south of Cape Town, which have a rather unpleasant habit of breaking into cars and stealing food from tourists.

While it’s entirely possible that a tourist or two lost an orange to a baboon, the worst predictions didn’t play out. Despite having one of the highest crime rates in the world, the only crimes of note were when an American backpacker got a gunshot injury in the wrong part of town, and when the housekeeping staff stole the undies of the English team. (Five of the staff were subsequently arrested, tried, and sentenced to three years in jail.)

Sepp Blatter, the chairman of FIFA, praised South Africa for its handling of the World Cup. Rejecting criticism about the quality of football and the empty seats in some stadiums, Mr. Blatter told the British Radio program 5 Live, "It was a World Cup in a new continent with new culture and therefore it must be analyzed on different levels. If you look at the enthusiasm in South Africa and the TV audiences around the world then it was a special World Cup."

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