Durban - Freedom Nykiza is a nine-year-old from Amaoti and a soccer fanatic. He watches local Premier Soccer League games on television and gets excited about seeing his heroes. But the exhilaration that he feels when he talks about the 2010 FIFA World Cup is incomparable, writes Kemantha Govender.
The young Kaizer Chiefs supporter is just one of many learners at the Esselen Heights Primary School in Phoenix, north of Durban, who participated in a mini soccer tournament as part of a series of activities planned around the world cup.
"I love my country, it is the best and I have been waiting for a long time and now the World Cup is here. I can't believe it. It will become real when it starts," said Nykiza.
Itumeleng Khune and Siphiwe Tshabalala are just two of his heroes and he harbours dreams to be just like them when he grows up. He also feels that Bafana Bafana have a shot at keeping the World Cup trophy in Africa.
"I know our strikers need work but we have a really good defence and that will help us," he said.
Many of the learners shared their thoughts, dreams and hopes about the national team and their other favourites, with much gusto.
Brazil, Spain, Germany, Portugal and England seem to be the more the popular teams after Bafana Bafana.
A lot has to do with the fact that many of the children watch the overseas football leagues.
So it comes as no surprise when names like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Michael Ballack, Nani, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo are shouted with enthusiasm.
With the exception of the German captain Michael Ballack, who has been ruled out due to injury, all the learner's sporting idols will be on the field.
Thashlin Naidoo feels that this World Cup is very special for the country because "we didn't play football for a long time and now we get a chance to host the tournament. It's great".
Naidoo said the World Cup has made going to school a whole lot more fun.
Apart from getting to wear football jerseys to school, they have also been learning about other countries.
The school chose 19 of the more popular teams and each class was allocated a country and was required to decorate the classrooms in keeping with the selected nation.
They will also make presentations at the assembly area where they will inform other learners about the participating countries' culture, lifestyle and people and displays will then be held in the library.
The World Cup has not only excited the learners - their teachers are equally thrilled about the global showpiece and its effect on their students.
"With some children, their attendance has definitely improved with the initiatives around the World Cup. They are very excited and they have something to look forward too," said the school's foundation phase head of department Dhaya Chetty.
She said teachers have incorporated the World Cup when teaching all subjects, which required more planning on their part.
Teacher Sara Naidoo agreed that more planning had to be done. She said teachers had to look to more immediate sources for information as opposed to text books.
"We looked in the media for information about the teams and general news around the World Cup. It has been challenging but also motivated us as teachers," said Naidoo.
The World Cup has generated interest and Esselen Heights like almost all schools in the country saw the need to make a contribution to this historic event.
"Their general knowledge has improved. They are very interested in the countries that they have to present on. So that's a positive - their geography and history of places have been given a boost," said Naidoo.
To teach them the concept of capacity in maths, the host stadiums were used. Learners had to identify the number of spectators stadiums could accommodate.
Learners seem to know more about their country, according to their teachers. They are aware of their national flower, bird, tree, flag, sporting captains and Zakumi, who has achieved iconic status.
The teachers intend on continuing with World Cup integration after the tournament concludes on July 11.
"We want the engage pupils to debate topics like how life has changed after the 2010 World Cup," said Naidoo.
Kyle Daniel Rappetti, who spends most of his time playing soccer for local club, Lenham Sporting is convinced Spain will win the Cup because of the amount of talent that resides in the team.
"They have Torres (Fernando, Villa (David) and Fabregas (Cesc). They are my favourite team and will win the World Cup. I support Bafana Bafana too because South Africa is my country," the little right back said.
Rappetti is one of the fortunate children who will get to go to a live match at the Moses Mabihda Stadium with his dad.
But it is not just the little boys who wanted to share their expertise on the world cup.
Nabeelah Goolam Nabie believes Germany will win the World Cup.
Her enthusiasm for the team has resulted in her learning some German words. While containing her joy about the tournament, she proudly said shouted her desire to speak German by saying "Guten Morgen, Danke shoen", repeatedly.
She plays football with her father and is impressed that South Africa has become the first African country to host the World Cup.
Grade two learner, Alyia Reece Govender, plays soccer with her brothers and consider the sport fun. Her money is on Bafana Bafana taking the ultimate prize in football.
"Bafana Bafana is a very good team and they will make me very happy and proud if they win the World Cup," said Alyia.
With just two weeks to go to the World Cup, Esslen Heights have so far enjoyed all the activities their teachers planned for them and will continue with their mini tournament until they crown their champions.
Meanwhile, football fever has also gripped other schools in the province.
Tree Tops, a school based in Musgrave chose a 2010 World Cup theme for this term.
"We have a countdown at school. We also have a display with all the stadiums and learnt the history about Moses Mabida. We have a display on the rules of the game," said an excited grade one, Shivaan Naicker.
Naicker, who loves and plays club football, added that they were fortunate enough to have been taken on a tour of the stadium. He can't wait to see his favourite player, Wayne Rooney in action.
Veron Mariemuthu, a grade two learner at Glenashley Junior Primary school in Durban North, is convinced that Brazil will win the World Cup but also feels Germany have it in them too.
"At school we have learnt songs about the World Cup and one of them is about the vuvuzela. One of our projects was to make a makaraba. We also use our soccer t-shirts to show our support," said Mariemuthu.