Johannesburg – Construction of the stadium to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup final will be finished ahead of schedule, the spokesperson for the tournament’s Local Organising Committee (LOC) said on Tuesday.

Tim Modise told a briefing that government officials were confident the Soccer City stadium in southern Johannesburg would be ready by April 2009, well ahead of the October 2009 delivery deadline set by soccer’s governing body Fifa.

“The flagship stadium, where the opening and final games will be played, will be delivered several months ahead of time,” Modise said. “They have been working 24/7 on it.”

South Africa is building five new stadiums and refurbishing five others in preparation for the World Cup, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the country.

It will be the first soccer World Cup played in Africa.

Work on the stadiums began this year, later than expected, prompting concerns South Africa would not meet key construction deadlines and spurring reports that Fifa might consider moving the World Cup to another country.

Fifa officials have repeatedly denied any plan to strip South Africa of the prestigious tournament. The organisation’s president Sepp Blatter said after touring World Cup sites in South Africa last week that “only an act of God” would see the tournament taken away from the country.

The Soccer City stadium, which is located near the giant black township of Soweto, will have 94 000 seats. Designed to resemble a giant calabash shell, the stadium will create the image of a traditional African cooking pot when lit up at night.

While praising officials for picking up the pace on stadium construction, Blatter and others have urged organisers to pay attention to the construction of hotels and other World Cup facilities and ensure the streets are safe for visitors.

South Africa’s high level of violent crime – much of it centred in and around Johannesburg – has raised fears that fans and athletes could be easy pickings for criminals during World Cup events in the nine host cities.

DATED: 26th June 2007