Play has begun at the 2010 World Cup – the first ever World Cup to be held on the continent of Africa.
About 90,000 fans mostly dressed in South Africa’s team colors of yellow and green, packed into the newly refurbished Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on Friday. They are watching South Africa play Mexico in the first game in the 32-nation, month-long tournament.
The opening ceremony featured singers and dancers in colorful costumes and body paint. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, sat side-by-side overlooking the festivities, each wearing their home team’s scarf.
Television cameras also showed South African Nobel laureate and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu wearing a team jersey and dancing in the stands.
The excitement was tempered, though, by the absence of former president Nelson Mandela, who canceled a planned appearance after his great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash on her way home from Thursday’s World Cup kickoff concert.
In remarks before the start of the game, President Zuma said the 91-year-old Mr. Mandela had wanted to attend but could not because of the unexpected death of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter, Zenani.
Mr. Zuma also lauded the tournament as the first ever hosted by an African nation, calling it “the African World Cup.”
The World Cup is being played in 10 stadiums across South Africa — including Soccer City and Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
In addition to an automatic qualification for the host team, five African countries qualified for this year’s World Cup — Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria.
Italy enters the World Cup as defending champion, but Spain, the reigning European champion, and five-time former world champion Brazil are considered the early favorites in South Africa.
The first World Cup football tournament was played in 1930 in Montevideo with host nation Uruguay defeating Argentina for the championship.