South Africa is situated at the southern tip of Africa, with almost 2800km of coastline from the Atlantic and Indian oceans. At 1,22million square kilometres it is the 25th largest country in the world, about the size of France, Italy and Spain combined.
The country is bordered to the north by Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, to the east by Mozambique and Swaziland and encircles the kingdom of Lesotho.
It is divided into nine provinces, with Gauteng, which includes industrial and financial centre Johannesburg and capital Pretoria, being the smallest by land size but the richest and most populated. It is also home to three of the 10 stadiums for the World Cup.
Cape Town, in the south-west of the country, is the biggest tourist draw and will host a semifinal in the tournament within sight of its famous Table Mountain.
The country has a population of 49,32million people, largely resident in the northern and western parts of the country.
South Africa has 11 official languages and while English is the main language of business it is only the fifth most spoken tongue in the country.
The economy emerged from its first recession in 17 years in the third quarter of last year, after averaging around 5percent growth a year for the previous five years.
But consumers remain under pressure and the power supply is still tight, prompting utility Eskom to pour billions into building capacity.
The Treasury expects the economy to grow by 1,5percent this year.
Economists say the prediction is too pessimistic, arguing that the World Cup and the money flowing from an expected 450000 fans will help to boost growth to more than 2percent.
Some economists see the tournament adding about 0,5 percent to growth.
The government will spend R872billion over the next three years to boost infrastructure, including an upgrade of roads and highways and a fast rail system linking Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport, financial centre Sandton and Pretoria.
The country is mineral-rich, producing three-quarters of the world's platinum, and remains a major gold producer. - Reuters