S.Africa ready, but where's the 2013 energy?

Johannes Myburgh
1 / 3

Togolese supporters celebrate qualification on October 14, 2012 for the Africa Cup of Nations

Togolese supporters hold a placard reading "Shevi Adebayor, Togo's only hope" as they celebrate at the end of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on October 14, 2012 in Lome. Togo beat Gabon 2-1 to qualify for the 2013 showpiece in South Africa

South Africa count down 30 days to the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday with no doubt over their ability to host but little of the bursting energy the nation experienced before the 2010 World Cup.

Fears over empty seats and the state of the pitch of the opening and closing matches' host stadium also linger.

Stadiums, roads and hotels have been ready since the World Cup over two-and-a-half years ago.

But unlike back then, no flags of the 16 participating nations are flying from street poles, and the hippo mascot Takuma is nowhere in sight.

South Africa's bright colours aren't flying on cars' side-mirrors and people don't wear national team Bafana Bafana's (The Boys) shirts.

Bafana once again got in on a hosting ticket, having failed to qualify for the tournament themselves.

South Africa kick off against first-timers Cape Verde on January 19 at Soccer City stadium in southwest Johannesburg's Soweto, where Spain became world champions in 2010.

But some local fans aren't overly worried over the lack of hype.

"We know it's happening. There's nothing but you know, it's Africa," said Rolf Wilhelmsen, 50, taking photos with his family at Soccer City.

"It's all subdued. It's simmering below the surface at the moment. But at the start of January it'll be bang! It's full on."

For 28-year-old Bheki Khumalo it's about national pride.

"In the World Cup we proved we can host. So hosting the Afcon makes me proud."

Earlier this year South Africa took over the event from Libya, who withdrew following political turmoil during the Arab Spring.

The country with the continent's best sporting facilities and infrastructure was the logical choice to step in at short notice.

The tournament will be played in five host cities and towns -- Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit and Rustenburg. All of them have upgraded or newly-built stadiums.

Security for teams will be ramped up after children threw stones at African champions Zambia's bus following a match in Johannesburg in November. Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene needed stitches after glass cut his head.

Visas and border crossings will be jacked up for the tournament.

But filling stadiums is another story during an economic crunch on a continent where travel is exorbitantly expensive.

"I have no doubt we will have more than 90,000 people when we host the opening and final matches," insisted Soccer City marketing manager Louis Tshakoane.

In October organisers said they'd sell 400,000 tickets by the end of the year; they had struggled to reach 50,000 by the start of December.

Prices range from 50 rands ($5.95, 4.68 euro) to 200 rands ($23.81, 18.74 euro).

But South Africans have never been overly excited about the Africa Cup.

An empty Royal Bafokeng Stadium seems very probable in northern mining town Rustenburg, or in Port Elizabeth on the south coast.

But then thousands of seats were empty during matches at the previous tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon at the start of the year.

The Soccer City pitch is being replanted with hybrid grass and rested until January after international concerts there damaged the surface.

Outrage however trumps fear over its readiness because the stadium will host a concert of American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers a week before the final on February 10.