Will 2010 World Cup Be Economic Boom or Bust for South Africa?

"I would say that South Africa has come through the recession period probably better than we would have because of the soccer World Cup, because people are employed and there's a focus on improving safety and security in this country," she said.

But the real boost, she predicted, will come in the years following the tournament.

"The real benefit of the event is the long-term legacy that comes with it, not the event itself. It really starts to put South Africa on the map."

"Excitement is becoming very high," she observed. "Everybody's talking about it. They're talking about how this is the year for South Africa. This is the second-biggest thing that's ever happened to this country behind the 1994 democratic elections."

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That sense of the tournament's importance is shared by the country's leaders.

On New Year's Eve, the nation's president Zuma declared, "Together as all South Africans, we must make this one of the most successful projects we have ever undertaken as a nation."

But while financial success may be possible for South Africa, such a boost is not necessarily borne out by the lessons of history.

"They're operating under mistaken assumptions," Baade said of the officials. "They're hoping for economic impact but the reality is quite different."

Time will tell, but for now one thing is clear: there's a lot resting on this summer's World Cup for South Africa, a lot more than just the success of their soccer team.

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