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Messi, Rooney take to World Cup stage

sports Updated: Jun 12, 2010 16:36 IST

Reuters
Highlight Story

Two of the world's most talented players, Argentina's Lionel Messi and England's Wayne Rooney, take the stage on Saturday hoping to reproduce the excitement of a spectacular start to Africa's first World Cup.

South Africa's Bafana Bafana (The Boys) team scored a glorious opening goal of the tournament in their 1-1 draw with Mexico, a flowing game that capped locals' pride in defying sceptics who said they could never organise a World Cup.

World player of the year Messi and England striker Rooney were hoping to shift the limelight from South Africa to their own teams in the two most attractive-looking games of Day Two.

Marshalled by maverick manager and former great Diego Maradona, Argentina take on African heavyweights Nigeria in the first Group B match at 1400 GMT in Johannesburg's Ellis Park.

Saturday also brings an intriguing match between England, one of the tournament favourites and the United States, who could be one of its most dangerous outsiders, in Group C's first match at 1830 GMT near the sleepy town of Rustenburg.

Though police said there was no indication of a specific plot, the England-U.S. match was to be the most closely-guarded of the World Cup in case of a terrorist threat.

Argentina are favourites to win their group with a team crammed with talent headed by the outstanding Messi. Nigeria's experienced squad, with many players from European leagues, should provide the toughest test for them in the group though.

MESSI AND MARARDONA IN SPOTLIGHT

Along with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi's ball skills are one of the most eagerly awaited sights of this World Cup.

Interest in Argentina is equally focused on ever-controversial manager Maradona. The inexperienced and quixotic coach's questionable decisions were blamed for Argentina's shaky qualifying road to the World Cup.

England, who some pundits put behind only Spain and Brazil as potential winners despite the loss through injury of captain Rio Ferdinand, are notoriously slow starters.

They face awkward opponents in the much improved U.S. side under seasoned coach Bob Bradley.

"I understand this is a really, really important moment for the country, but I am relaxed," England's Italian manager Fabio Capello said of national hopes he could end a wait since 1966 to bring the trophy back to the nation that invented football.

Saturday's other match is between South Korea and Greece in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth where the main question may be if fans will fill the beautiful new lakeside stadium -- FIFA is worried about scant local interest.

Seldom outnumbered, England's famously raucous fans looked set to be outdone for once, with 30,000 Americans expected at the game from a burgeoning "Sam's Army" U.S. supporters' club.

In a day of euphoria and street-parties across South Africa, the globe's most watched sports event met all expectations on Friday with an outstanding opening match and ceremony.

Johannesburg's Saturday Star said Bafana Bafana's display "showed we are not a nation of unrealistic dreamers."

The mood was only dampened by sadness over the death in a car crash of the 13-year-old great granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, beloved father of post-apartheid South Africa, whose mourning forced him to miss the opening match.

South Africa's thrilling 1-1 draw with Mexico totally outshone the second match between France and Uruguay which produced a lacklustre goalless draw in the graceful new Green Point stadium in Cape Town, known as the "Mother City."

From Table Mountain in Cape Town to Soweto township in Johannesburg -- a centre of the anti-apartheid struggle -- flags are flying and vuvuzela horns are sounding in a moment of national unity and euphoria around the tournament.

Still riven by racial and wealth disparities 16 years after the end of apartheid, South Africans hope the World Cup will help forge social unity as well as boost tourism and investment.