Cesare Prandelli, who has replaced Marcello Lippi as coach of the Italian national soccer team, answers a question during his presentation at Rome's Olympic Stadium,Thursday, July 1, 2010. Prandelli expects the Azzurri to quickly bounce back from its World Cup failure. Defending champion Italy exited the World Cup in South Africa after failing to get out of a group that included Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.
JOHANNESBURG: Despite noticeable pockets of empty seats at many World Cup games, the chief executive of the local organizing committee thinks the tournament could surpass the 3 million mark in paid attendance.
With eight games still to be played, paid attendance is already at 2.69 million people, Danny Jordaan said Thursday.
"The signs are there," Jordaan said. "The South African fans have been superb. The spirit inside the country has been one of the outstanding features of this World Cup."
However, FIFA said Thursday that it still has 1,000 premier seats unsold for the Argentina-Germany quarterfinal match in Cape Town on Saturday — a game featuring two of the world's best and most popular teams. There are also 700 premier and 200 Category 1 tickets remaining for Friday's match between Uruguay and Ghana at Soccer City.
Organizers had to give away tickets to Confederations Cup matches in South Africa last year, and promised then that there would be no empty seats at World Cup. But they have yet to solve the problem, despite bulk sales to offload tickets to South African companies and various government departments.
Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium had at least 4,000 empty seats for each of its first six games at the World Cup — including 12,000 for the round of 16 match between Uruguay and South Korea. Bloemfontein's Free State Stadium had similar problems and only boasted a capacity crowd for two of its six games. It had rows of empty seats at the other four.
Disappointing international hospitality sales have also meant more than half of the suites have been empty at many matches.
Jordaan also said 364,000 tourists had visited South Africa in the first two weeks of the World Cup. Organizers said in 2004 they expected between 450,000 and 500,000 visitors for the tournament, but the global economic crisis led them to revise that figure to less than 300,000.
Jordaan said the first World Cup in Africa has been an "extraordinary success," and had proved the country's doubters — particularly the foreign media — wrong.
"Now, to their credit, those people have said sorry and complimented the way we have run the tournament and the huge success of the first World Cup in Africa," Jordaan said. "There is a positive energy in our country we need to harness and maintain after the World Cup ends.
"For a while we will be depressed (after it ends)," he added, "but we can hold our heads high knowing we have surpassed all expectations."
QUICK TURNAROUND: New Italy coach Cesare Prandelli expects the Azzurri to make a quick rebound after being knocked out of the World Cup in the first round.
The defending champions left South Africa without a victory for the first time in their World Cup history after draws with Paraguay and New Zealand and a loss to Slovakia. The Italians were last in Group E, also a first.
"There is a lot of quality, a lot of experience and a lot of good things to build on," Prandelli said signing a four-year contract Thursday to replace Marcello Lippi.
Prandelli's first game as Italy coach is Aug. 10 against Ivory Coast in London.
ART FOR A CAUSE: Two African artists are using the World Cup to raise awareness of the work of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
46664, Mandela's campaign to prevent HIV/AIDS, has partnered with Adidas to produce daily paintings about the first World Cup to be staged in Africa. The paintings, done by Espoir Kennedy and Paul Junior Kasemwana, are inspired from photographs taken during World Cup matches.
The artwork is being auctioned on the Internet, with all proceeds going to 46664, named after Mandela's cell number on Robben Island.
"This is a passion for me because the money (that) comes from this is going to kids that maybe lost their parents or one of their parents might have passed away because of AIDS," Kennedy said. "That's always been my biggest wish, that my paintings would be spread all over the world. So I am very exited about it."
GA-GA FOR GHANA: Look out, Uruguay. Ghana has an entire continent's worth of support behind it.
Ghana is seeking to become the first African team to reach the World Cup semifinals when it faces Uruguay on Friday. Kwesi Nyantakyi, president of Ghana's soccer federation, said he hopes the Black Stars' "sterling performance" in South Africa will help mend fragile relationships between countries and warring factions across the continent.
"We are supported by the whole of Africa," Nyantakyi said Thursday. "In Africa, we are one person, we have a common objective and that is why we support one another."
Only two other African teams have advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals — Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. After beating the United States in the second round, millions of fans across Africa are hoping Ghana can go at least one step farther.
"We know we are not alone," Nyantakyi said. "We are trying to pursue the African cause — we will do our best."
WELCOME BACK: Japan's unexpected success at the World Cup earned the team an enthusiastic welcome home.
Thousands of fans waving flags that read "Thank you," greeted the team in the arrival lobby at Kansai International Airport on Thursday. Japan beat Cameroon and Denmark to reach the knockout stage for the first time at a World Cup on foreign soil. Japan also reached the second round when it co-hosted the 2002 tournament with South Korea.
Japan lost to Paraguay in a penalty shootout Tuesday.