Friday, Dec. 04, 2009

The Road to World Cup Soccer Glory

Beneath Cape Town's majestic Table Mountain on Friday, Dec. 4, the world got a glimpse of the excitement that will engulf South Africa next summer when the globe's largest sporting event, soccer's World Cup, makes its debut on African soil. Lingering questions of infrastructure, security and transportation arrangements were momentarily suspended as Hollywood star Charlize Theron returned to her native country to preside over a 90-min. drawing process that had millions of fans around the world glued to their TVs. It was a moment to recall the triumphs of the 31 sides (plus host South Africa, which automatically qualified) that emerged from the 200 nations who played 853 qualifying games and scored 2,344 goals (including a highly disputed one in Paris) to make it to the world's premier sporting event. A video message from aging former President Nelson Mandela underscored the importance of the event to African pride, while the presence of such key political figures as President Jacob Zuma, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President F.W. De Klerk reminded all of the road that South Africa has traveled to this point.

But for soccer's stars and fans, Friday's draw was the all-important road map to their World Cup glory. Here's TIME's analysis of what they heard: