So here we are then. Just 1,430 days since Zinedine Zidane plunged his dome into the chest of Marco Materazzi and after hundreds of qualifiers, swathes of managerial changes, numerous sex scandals and one infamous handball, the World Cup is finally upon us. That means the end is nigh for this column but, like Theo Walcott, we hope to take our leave gracefully.
Since the start of December, The South Africa Angle has been chronicling preparations for the World Cup finals, watching as the country confounded the critics to deliver on its promise to be ready for the tournament. North Korea and their goalkeeper/striker aside, all 32 teams are now also present and correct. The talking is over.
But what can we expect from the first World Cup to be played in Africa? If early indications from the English media are anything to go by, then there will be plenty of hand-wringing about the all-pervasive vuvuzela. On the pitch, the more established African nations of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria look in some disarray following injuries to key players, while Carlos Alberto Parreira's Bafana Bafana are unexpectedly approaching the tournament in decent form - a positive state of affairs for the host nation and its legions of fans.
But by far the most intriguing nation is surely Argentina. In Diego Maradona they have a coach for whom the word 'unpredictable' barely does justice. This is, after all, the man who described as an "asshole" a cameraman he ran over with his car in May. Maradona arguably has the most talented squad at his disposal, and unarguably the world's greatest player in Lionel Messi, but can he fashion something approaching a tactical game plan?
While Argentina are an unknown quantity, there are always some things that can be taken as read. England will fall to a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals, an uninspired Germany will somehow scrape to the final four and Brazil will be there or thereabouts, despite Dunga reigning in their more flamboyant instincts. We all know the clichés by now, but it is Spain who look best placed to shatter any national stereotypes by finally winning the tournament. They are our pick to triumph in South Africa, but, as ever, the joy lies in the unexpected stories, the great goals and the moments of controversy. It's time to sit back and enjoy the greatest show on earth.
MANDELA THE MASTER OF CEREMONY
One man who will be present at Soccer City on Friday is Nelson Mandela after it was confirmed on Tuesday that he will attend the opening ceremony. The presence of the country's former leader will be of huge symbolic and emotional value, as he had such a key role in the creation of modern South Africa. At 91 years of age, Mandela will likely be in attendance for a short time, according to a family member. "He will come and greet the fans... before he retires to his home," Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela said. "We're trying to see how long he will stay at the stadium. At least 10 to 15 minutes." How fitting that such an iconic figure will grace the first World Cup in Africa with his presence.
PLAYER IN FOCUS: Wayne Rooney
Perhaps only Lionel Messi has a comparable level of hype surrounding him ahead of the finals in South Africa, but for Rooney, expectation is being matched by apprehension after a strange display of anger against Platinum Stars. In what was to all intents and purposes a meaningless friendly against a local side, Rooney still succumbed to the red mist, and this on the same day in which Jay DeMerit said USA will try to wind the striker up on Saturday evening.
Explaining Rooney's booking for dissent, referee Jeff Selogilwe said: "Rooney insulted me. He said, 'F*** you'. He's a good player when you see him on the television, but when you see him on the pitch he just keeps on insulting the referee. He must learn to control his temper. He could get sent off in the World Cup, especially if he uses this kind of language."
A quick scan of Ricardo Carvalho's nether regions will serve as an adequate reminder of why Rooney's last World Cup ended in disgrace and while apologists always trot out the line that, in the words of Jermain Defoe on Monday, "if you take that away from him then he won't be the same player", Rooney will now be a marked man, both for opponents and referees. With nine goals and no bookings during qualification, Rooney looked to have achieved maturity; Capello will hope that Monday's little outburst was just residual growing pains.
WORLD CUP QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Joining the ever-growing ranks of goalkeepers queuing up to get their excuses in early and savage the Jabulani ball, USA's Marcus Hahnemann blows the debate out of all proportion. "Technology is not everything," Hahnemann said. "Scientists came up with the atom bomb, doesn't mean we should have invented it."
WORLD CUP QUOTE OF THE YEAR
As it's our final edition, allow The South Africa Angle the indulgence of reflecting on our favourite verbal offering of the World Cup campaign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this gem spilled from the foul mouth of the one and only Diego Maradona. After securing World Cup qualification with a 1-0 win over Uruguay in October, El Diego trundled into his press confidence and declared: "Those of you who didn't believe in me can suck my d**k and keep on sucking." Genius, and any rant that results in a two-month FIFA ban can't be bad.