Fernando Torres, Spain's pro-African football hitman

Fernando Torres, Spain's pro-African football hitmanRustenburg, South Africa - Fernando Torres is well known for his ability to score goals of every kind, but he also takes pride in his fight against racism and his support for Africa.

"This tournament and the World Cup are going to leave behind many things, but one of the most important among them is to show that Africans can host a championship of this kind," the Liverpool striker told the German Press Agency dpa.

Torres, 25, who scored a hat-trick in Spain's 5-0 win over New Zealand Sunday in the Confederations Cup, is one of the tournament's greatest stars for South Africans, many of whom follow him every week in the Premier League.

"For me it is a pleasure to be here in South Africa, to get to know this culture and above all to see that people admire me so much. It is an added bonus to try and do things well and leave a good impression to return for the World Cup," Torres said.

"I have always been very interested in the continent," said the former Atletico Madrid man, an official ambassador for the World Cup that South Africa is set to host June
11-July 11 2010.

Torres believes that the first-ever World Cup on African soil will be "different, but necessary."

South Africa suffered strong pressure in recent years, with frequent rumours about the chance that it might lose the chance to organize the World Cup altogether due to organizational and security problems.

Even FIFA president Joseph Blatter, a great advocate of holding the World Cup in Africa, said more than once that he had a "plan B" for the event that Nelson Mandela's country was not up to the task.

Torres, however, thinks South Africa has earned the right to host next year's World Cup.

"We have to open the gates of football to the whole world and to prove that football is universal, that it is played both in Europe and in Africa, the Americas and other places," Torres told dpa.

"Football is a sport that was made to unite and we are here to prove that Africa, South Africa in this case, can perfectly well host a championship like the Confederations Cup, and then the World Cup," he stressed.

He confessed to not yet having read John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, on how Mandela made the most of the
1995 rugby World Cup to unite his country.

However, Torres is aware of the history of a country that was until two decades ago a pariah state at the global level because of its Apartheid policies.

"South Africa has been unlucky to have had until almost 1996 many political-racial problems, but from then on it is a country that is to some extent developed," he said.

The striker admitted that he has become more conscious of the problems related to racism since he has been playing in England.

"The truth is that racism is heavily punished there. Unfortunately many years ago we have had racial problems and that has been a heavy load that has persisted for many years. Thank God there is less of that everyday," he said.

"Since I arrived in England, I have learned to be more respectful of that. From the moment you arrive there you realize that they keep it separate from any other kind of problem because it really is serious, and it is a pity that expressions (of racism) are still seen in some countries."

"But there are less and less, and the more we can contribute to eliminate that, the better."

The Spaniard declined to say whether his Spain team-mates share his concern for Africa and its problems.

"Everyone has their own way to look at things, their own concerns," Torres said.

The footballer stressed South Africa's potential.

"It is a very new country, it can do things towards the outside because it has been apart from the world for a long time."

Torres' eyes shine brighter when asked whether he would like to meet Nelson Mandela, the man who was in jail for 27 years and was elected South Africa's president in
1994, in the country's first-ever free elections with universal suffrage. The former South African leader is 90, and has retired from political life.

"Of course! I hope we get the chance. If not now, in the World Cup, and it would be a great honour, definitely." (dpa)

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