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South Africa's World Cup team (nicknamed "The Boys") goes for a run. (Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

So Many Soccer Fans!

Billions will watch the World Cup in South Africa, kicking off Friday

By James Lobo and Zach Jones | June 10 , 2010
TOP: 2010 World Cup mascot Zakumi (AP Photo / Roberto Pfeil);<br />BOTTOM: Map of host city Cape Town, South Africa (Jim McMahon)
TOP: 2010 World Cup mascot Zakumi (AP Photo / Roberto Pfeil);
BOTTOM: Map of host city Cape Town, South Africa (Jim McMahon)

Soccer is a really big deal around the world. Many people enjoy watching the sport. Billions, in fact! That's how many fans across the globe are expected to watch the 2010 World Cup tournament on TV, starting Friday.

This year, the world-famous soccer event is being held in South Africa. The event is held in a different country every four years.

South Africa is the first African nation in history to host the World Cup. To commemorate this special honor, human rights leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela will attend the opening ceremonies.

GLOBAL EVENT

The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world. Two hundred and four countries and territories competed for spots in the event over the past three years. (That's the same number of countries that took part in the 2008 Summer Olympics.) Now, 32 leading teams from countries worldwide will participate in the final monthlong tournament.

The games will kick off with a match between teams from South Africa and Mexico. But many U.S. soccer fans are looking ahead to Saturday. That's when teams from the U.S. and England will compete.

American soccer star Landon Donovan will face off against his English rival, Ashley Cole. It will be the first time the two have met on the field since Donovan accidentally broke Cole's ankle at a February game.

Now English fans are excited that Cole might best Donovan at such a high-profile event. But experts say the U.S. has its first chance since 1950 to beat England in a World Cup event.

KICKOFF IN CAPE TOWN

Hosting the World Cup is a lot of work. South Africans have been busy preparing. Five new stadiums were built across the country for the soccer matches. Five older stadiums were also upgraded for the event. The largest stadium is located in the nation's biggest city, Johannesburg. That stadium can hold 95,000 people.

Six teams from Africa will compete over the next month. Players on the Nigerian and Cameroon teams are considered to be among the most talented in the world.

Soccer—called football outside the U.S.—is an especially popular sport in Africa. So having the World Cup on African soil for the first time is hugely important to African soccer fans of all ages. One South African fan, Daisy Manene, 15, came with many kids from her village to see the event. "It's really exciting for us to be here," she told ESPN.

MEET ZAKUMI

Each World Cup has its own mascot. This year's mascot is a green and yellow leopard named Zakumi. His name is a combination of "ZA," which is an abbreviation for South Africa, and "kumi," which means "10" in several African languages. The mascot's bright colors match South Africa's soccer team jerseys.

"Having the World Cup in South Africa is very important to the country. It will be "[one of the most] successful projects we have ever undertaken as a nation," said Jacob Zuma, South Africa's President.

Questions on soccer? Check out the basics of this globally popular sport from Grolier Encyclopedia.

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