Spain or the Netherlands will win the title for the first time when the two teams meet Sunday at Soccer City in Johannesburg, resulting in an eighth champion in the 80-year history of the tournament.
The cooking pot-shaped stadium near Soweto was bathed in winter sunlight, with wind whipping red dust over fans arriving early for the match.
But lost amid the questions over whether an African nation could triumph on its own continent has been Europe’s prior lack of success when the World Cup is staged on foreign territory.
European teams have featured in the deciding match in six out of the previous eight World Cups held on other continents without winning once.
Those tournaments were played in Chile, Mexico (twice), Argentina, United States and South Korea-Japan, where perhaps the debilitating effects of the heat took their toll at the end of the campaign for the European teams.
At this World Cup in South Africa, the weather has been milder, and fans will be hoping Spain and the Netherlands are able to put on a show matching their respective FIFA rankings of No. 2 and No. 4.
“It’s true that whichever team has better ball possession will be halfway toward a win,” Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez said on Saturday. “We’ll intend to impose our style of play from the opening minute. But the Netherlands will, too. Possession will clearly be the key to the game.”
FIFA is yet to announce who will present the trophy to the winning team, but Nelson Mandela’s family says the governing body is pressuring the anti-apartheid icon to attend the final.
“We’ve come under extreme pressure from FIFA requiring and wishing that my grandfather be at the final today,” Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, told BBC radio. “But I think that decision will solemnly lie with him, how he wakes up today, how he feels, what his medical team says, but as well his family.
“My grandfather is 92 years old next week, this is an evening game. He’s expected to hand over the trophy after the game which could be anything from 22-30 to 23-00 and it will be quite strenuous on his part.”
Netherlands captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst hopes Mandela will hand over the trophy -- and that he will be the one receiving it.
That would make it very special,” Van Bronckhorst said. “It would be so beautiful if I could lift the cup if he is around.
“As a kid, you follow the World Cups and when the cup is lifted, it is a very special moment. Only a precious few players can do that, so it is a dream for me to lift that cup.”
Away from the pitch, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy said he expects FIFA to clear the leaders of the country’s 2022 World Cup bid over allegations they offered illegal gifts and inducements in their campaign.
FIFA started investigating last month after The Age newspaper reported that FIFA executive members who choose World Cup hosts were given jewellery and offered travel expenses.
Lowy said no rules were broken and he believes FIFA’s ethics committee could publish its favorable report “within days.”
In Rev. Paul Vlaar’s rural church in the Netherlands, the candles, the piano, even the pastor’s robes are orange for a day.
Vlaar started his sermon to about 300 orange-clad worshippers by praying for a Dutch victory in the World Cup final against Spain. During the service, Vlaar kicked a football down the aisle and “You’ll never walk alone” was played on the orange piano.
Vlaar’s orange-coloured corner of the Netherlands was one small snapshot from a nation gripped by a football frenzy triggered by the country’s first final appearance since losing back-to-back finals in 1974 and ‘78.
The football fervour was just as strong in Spain, where newspaper ABC featured the country’s flag and just one word on its front page- “Spain!”
FIFA expects 700 million to watch final
FIFA expects a global television audience of more than 700 million viewers to watch the World Cup final.
FIFA’s head of television Niclas Ericson says deals were signed to show the Netherlands play Spain in every country in the world.
Ericson says increased ratings for this World Cup suggests the audience for Sunday’s match will beat the 700 million estimated to have seen Italy beat France at the 2006 final played in Germany.
FIFA expects a record audience for a sports broadcast in Spain, and a market share of more than 90 percent of Dutch viewers.
The World Cup final is set to beat the audience for the opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics which attracted an estimated 600 million viewers.