Absent Mandela inspires World Cup hosts at opener | sports | Hindustan Times
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Absent Mandela inspires World Cup hosts at opener

sports Updated: Jun 11, 2010 22:37 IST

Africa's first football World Cup kicked off in Johannesburg on Friday as a grief-stricken Nelson Mandela inspired the hosts to a 1-1 draw with Mexico in front of a raucous and emotional home crowd.

South Africa's Bafana Bafana, a lowly 83 in world football, nearly grabbed a stunning winner as they hit the post in the closing minutes but should still be more than happy with a draw against the 17th ranked Mexicans.

Siphiwe Tshabalala sent most of the 85,000 supporters packed into Soccer City into ecstasy as he opened the scoring with a stunning strike in the 55th minute before Mexico's Rafael Marquez equalised 24 minutes later.

Bafana's Katlego Mphela hit the post in the 90th minute as the home team finished much the stronger.

The match followed emotional scenes at the opening ceremony with fans weeping during a fly-pass over the stadium before 1,500 performers piled on to the pitch for a dance routine which saw them create a map of the continent.

After brief turns from some of the biggest names in African music, it was left to South African President Jacob Zuma to declare the tournament open and the Uzbek referee Rashan Irmatov to blow the starting whistle.

"The time for Africa has come. It has arrived," Zuma told the supporters.

The crowds had been hoping that Mandela, South Africa's first black president, would be present to cheer on the Bafana Bafana national team.

But he was instead nursing his grief after the death of his 13-year-old great granddaughter Zenani Mandela.

In a statement, Mandela's foundation said that the country's first black president felt it inappropriate to attend a football match at a time of family grief but added that "Madiba will be there with you in spirit today."

The youngster was killed on the way back from an eve of tournament concert, in a car crash which police say was caused by a drunk driver.