Football comes to Nelspruit, a world away

Fri Jun 18, 2010 12:02pm EDT
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By Gideon Long

NELSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) - Drive to Nelspruit from Johannesburg, across the grasslands of the high veld and then down through the lush vegetation of the low veld, and the first thing you see as you approach the city is the football stadium.

With its green roof and bright orange roof supports, it looks from a distance like a giant spider with florescent legs, half-hidden in the undergrowth.

But get closer and the orange legs reveal themselves to be 18 steel giraffes, each 48 meters high. Step inside the Mbombela Stadium, and you find the 45,000 seats are painted in bold black and white zebra stripes.

In case you had any doubt, this is Africa.

Nelspruit, the smallest of the 10 World Cup host cities, is marketing itself on this quintessentially African imagery.

If you want a safari with your soccer, this is your place: the world famous Kruger National Park is an hour's drive away and South Africa's only chimpanzee sanctuary is just down the road.

Head north and you soon find yourself in a breathtaking landscape of deep gorges and craggy peaks. "God's Window," "Pilgrim's Rest," "Robbers' Pass" -- the names on the signposts are evocative.


<p>A general view of Nelspruit at night, November 24, 2009. REUTERS/Rogan Ward</p>