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South Africa wants World Cup to bring 'change of perceptions'

MOSCOW, June 10 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) - With a year and a day until the 2010 World Cup kicks off in South Africa, the country's ambassador to Russia said on Wednesday he hoped the tournament would "raise the profile" of the whole continent.

Speaking at a RIA Novosti press conference, Dr Bheki Langa pointed out that his country was the first African state to be awarded what he called "the greatest show on earth" and that he expected the event to bring about "a change of perceptions."

"We are very ready to host the tournament," he said. "We have undertaken major preparatory work."

Langa added that all of FIFA's requirements would be met, and hit out at the "pessimism" and "propaganda" that initially met the announcement that his country would host the 2010 World Cup.

"Certain people, people who had never been to Africa, let alone South Africa, didn't believe in an African country's ability to hold the event," he said.

The diplomat also stressed that the competition would be "an African project, not simply a South African one," and that a number of countries in the region, such as Botswana and Mozambique, would provide training facilities and team accommodation during next year's tournament.

Answering suggestions that the money spent on the World Cup could be better used in improving the lot of the poorest South Africans, Dr Langa said that the competition would lead to a "dynamic development." He also said the event would see the creation of up to 160,000 new jobs.

The ambassador also stated that he hoped the tournament would give a boost to the country's tourism industry, which already attract some 8,000,000 visitors a year. South Africa is expecting around 400,000 guests for the World Cup, and Langa said visa regulations would be eased for Russians wishing to attend the tournament.

The 2008 Confederation Cup, a rehearsal for the main event, runs from June 14-28 and aside from the hosts features the continental champions - Brazil, the United States, Egypt, New Zealand, Iraq and Spain - plus the reigning world champions, Italy.

Langa also said that he and the embassy staff would be supporting Russia in their qualifying campaign, and that he hoped to see a South Africa-Russia final on July 11, 2010.

Russia face Finland in Helsinki on Wednesday evening. Victory will virtually assure them at least second spot in Group 4, as well as keep the pressure on leaders Germany. The second-placed side goes through to a playoff, while the group winners automatically qualify for the World Cup.

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