JOHANNESBURG: FIFA lavished praise on South Africa for its hosting of the World Cup as the second round kicked off Saturday, saying the country was on track for a "perfect" tournament.
Despite some initial problems, especially transportation on the opening day when traffic jams caused many late arrivals, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said South Africa had overcome its challenges.
"We had a difficult start on June 11 due to transportation issues as a result of lack of coordination between different groups," he told a news conference. "But now that has been sorted."
"Altogether, definitely since then, I think that we have been able to solve all the issues."
"If on July 11, we are on the same level as we are today, I would say it`s a perfect World Cup."
Two weeks into the tournament, three quarters of the 64 matches have already been played as the group stages finished late Friday.
Since South Africa was named the host six years ago, the country has fended off worries about its high crime rate and poor transportation, with naysayers raising the possibility that FIFA had a secret "Plan B" if the tournament went off track.
Valcke said Saturday that South Africa now would be considered a fallback plan for other nations.
"South Africa will always be a plan B for any World Cup," he said.
Now South Africa is embracing the opportunity to host major teams like England, Spain and Brazil as the second round gets underway, counting on the tourist boom to keep rolling.
"Security and organisational fears have been allayed and positive media coverage has spread a confident and optimistic message to audiences across the globe," the city of Cape Town, South Africa`s main tourist magnet, said in its evaluation of the tournament so far.
"This excellent media coverage, together with the current match positions of key traditional source markets, will result in a further surge in last-minute bookings," it added.
Police minister Nathi Mthethwa said he was also satisfied with how security plans for the tournament had been implemented.
"Our philosophy in preparations for this World Cup is a simple one, and that is over preparations -- and that is what we did," he told AFP.
Police have taken over security at four stadiums following wildcat strikes by stewards, but Mthethwa that hasn`t compromised police work elsewhere.
"We said in the beginning should anything break down... we will be there and we are implementing that. It hasn`t been a hassle for us, not at all," Mthethwa said.
South Africa`s Bafana Bafana were knocked out of the tournament, but the country has now set its sights on high-stakes matches that feature major matches like England-Germany in Bloemfontein on Sunday and Spain-Portugal in Cape Town on Tuesday.
The sleepy central city of Bloemfontein, where bars and restaurants are preparing for a swarm of supporters, was already gearing up for its big game, the last match the town will host.
"We are ecstatic," said Anja van Staveren, general manager of the Barbas Cafe which is a 10-minute walk from the Bloemfontein stadium and can serve 2,300 punters.
"We`re expecting them by the thousands. The whole street is getting ready for them to arrive."
But for many Africans, Ghana`s victory over the United States on Saturday in Rustenburg was more significant.
Ghana was the only African team to the clear the group stages, and is now only the third African team ever to reach a World Cup quarter-final.
BDST: 1631hrs, June 27, 2010