The first World Cup ever held in Africa opened Friday in a dazzling burst of joy, color and noise as the South African team took to the playing field to kick off the first match of the tournament against Mexico.
Hundreds of African dancers in vivid greens, reds and yellows paraded onto the field for the opening ceremony of the month-long tournament before a jubilant, horn-blowing crowd at Soccer City, the spectacular stadium between Johannesburg and Soweto.
Most of the fans were in the yellow jerseys of Bafana Bafana, the South African team. There were a few pockets of green – Mexico fans.
The crowd rose for the Mexican and South African national anthems - the latter a fusion of the main hymn of the anti-apartheid movement and the anthem of the former white-minority government.
Then it was time for kickoff - and the horns sounded louder than ever, like a swarm of bees amplified to near-deafening levels. Several icons of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa were on hand - including Mandela's former wife, Winnie, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who at one point was dancing in his seat to the music.
South Africa scored the first goal of the game and the tournament shortly after half time, however, Mexico evened out the score toward the end of the game, ending the match South Africa 1-1 Mexico.
France and Uruguay took to the field in Cape Town just two hours after the first match, breaking in the second stadium built for the international event. The match ended in a goalless draw.
South African President Jacob Zuma, a scarf in national colors around his neck, told the crowd just before kickoff that he had a message from Mandela: The game must start. You must enjoy the game.
Zuma was joined at midfield by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who depicted this World Cup as a triumph for Africa, and added The spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City.
It was not an occasion for those who dislike noise. Many of the fans came equipped with vuvuzelas - the plastic horns which emit a loud and distinctive blare. Incredibly, the din from the horns was briefly drowned out by the over flight of military jets just before the ceremony started.
The announcer then pleaded with the crowd to ease up on the horns so the global television audience could hear the music. The plea met with limited success.
An all-star cast of musicians, including South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and American singer R. Kelly, performed. Cast members brought out large placards with the flags of the 32 nations competing in the tournament, holding them high as a final burst of fireworks ended the show.
The elation was tempered by news that former South African President Nelson Mandela, would not attend the ceremony. The 91-year-old Mandela is frail and decided not to come after his 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash on the way home from Thursday night's World Cup concert.
Soccer City, which seats more than 90,000, wasn't yet full at the start of the ceremony.
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