SOUTH AFRICA WILL PASS THE TEST

By NBF NEWS
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Former Barcelona star Hristo Stoichkov says the 2010 World Cup will be a success.

Despite scepticism from sections of the western press, and some European football pundits about the ability of South Africa to host the FIFA World Cup, Hristo Stoichkov, former Barcelona star and Bulgarian international said South Africa is up to the test, and will not disappoint the world.

Stoichkov went to South Africa less than a year ago to take up the coaching position at Mamelodi Sundowns, but he resigned after failing to lead the club to the league title. However, the Bulgarian has only words of praise for the country.

“Having seen the infrastructure here, I'm sure they will not disappoint. South Africa will pass this test.” Stoichkov said of the South Africa's hosting ability.

Stoichkov, who led Sundowns to second place in the Premiership only a point off the pace of champions Supersport, waved away the possible concerns of tourists who will travel to the country for the FIFA World Cup.

Beautiful country
“Before coming here, I had read a lot in the newspapers, a lot of negative things.

However, what I have experienced is something different to what I read.

“I have been staying in South Africa for many months now, and I think it's a very beautiful country. It's very nice here, I like it a lot,” the man who was joint top-scorer at USA 1994 told FIFA.com during an interview. “I don't like comparing places because places are different. Barcelona is different from Johannesburg, so is Cape Town. I don't mean that in a bad way, but people must understand that places are different. In those three places, you find different people with different cultures, so of course the experiences will be different,” he said. “I walk around a lot, I go to many places. I have made many friends here. I meet people in the streets and my experience has been good with them. Like any country in the world, there are places you don't have to go to. And, this applies to Madrid, Barcelona or London.”

In South Africa, Stoichkov is widely admired for his role at the 1994 FIFA World Cup as well as for his time with Barcelona. The quick-thinking and skilful Bulgarian was part of what is now fondly referred to as the Catalan's “dream team,” which dominated Europe in the early 1990's. He also endeared himself to Sundowns supporters after he turned around what had initially looked like an average season for the club and had them fighting for league honours until the last week of the campaign.

Chances of African teams
Talking about how he thinks the African teams will perform at the World, the former player hinged Africa's hope on Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. He doesn't rate Nigeria as one of the African teams that might perform well. “You have Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, very good teams. Then there's South Africa whom I think will have a point to prove. Those three African sides will be hard to beat.” Although he is hesitant to predict which country will win, Stoichkov doesn't expect a surprise. “You have countries like Brazil, England, Spain,

Italy, Argentina – they are all favourites. All these teams are organised and will be dangerous. Then you have the African teams whom I believe will fight very hard in this tournament.

The legendary player turned coach, who has also led the Bulgarian national team and Celta Vigo in Spain, rates Barcelona's Lionel Messi high and insists the in-form Barcelona maestro is the player to watch in this World Cup. “He is the best player in the world at the moment. He is playing for the best team [Barcelona] and he is very good.

“At the moment, if you talk about the best players, you have to mention [Wayne] Rooney,

Cristiano [Ronaldo], Kaka, [Andres] Iniesta and few others that I might have forgotten. Of course you will have the African guys like Didier Drogba and [Samuel] Eto'o,” he said.