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Africa's first World Cup kicks off

Africa's first World Cup kicks off with unfancied hosts South Africa taking on Mexico in front of 95,000 spectators in a packed Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. Live scorecard | See special | The greatest show on Earth

sports Updated: Jun 11, 2010 20:30 IST

Africa's first World Cup kicked off on Friday with unfancied hosts South Africa taking on Mexico in front of 95,000 spectators in a packed Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.

Before the kick-off, hundreds of dancers filled the stadium with the colours of the African continent and the air was filled with the sound of thousands of the vuvuzela trumpets which are set to be a feature of the tournament.

One heartbroken absentee from the crowd was Nelson Mandela, who decided he could not join the festivities following the death of his great granddaughter in a car crash.

The country's first post-apartheid president pulled out of the festivities as he mourned 13-year-old Zenani Mandela, who died as she was being driven home from a pre-tournament concert.

The tragedy throws a shadow over an event which is about far more than just football.

South Africa's pride in making history as the first African hosts has shone through as the Rainbow Nation rides a wave of euphoria not seen since the collapse of apartheid and Mandela's subsequent election.

What the organisers fear now is that the South African team - ranked just 83rd by FIFA - will become the first World Cup host nation in history to fail to progress through the group stages.

Bafana Bafana (The Boys) face a tough task in a group including 1998 winners and 2006 runners-up France, and World Cup old hands Mexico and Uruguay.

The captain, Aaron Mokoena, said: "Some South Africans do not give us a chance at this level and we are desperate to prove them wrong and hold our own.

"I believe we can surprise some people by qualifying for the second round."

France's talented but inconsistent team open their Group A campaign against the Uruguayans in Cape Town in the opening day's other fixture at 1830 GMT.

The talismanic Zinedine Zidane has retired, and Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra will be keen to avoid the humiliation of France's defeat to minnows Senegal on the opening day of the 2002 tournament in South Korea.

The signs are not promising - poor results in build-up matches and a tussle between the team, the French media and eccentric coach Raymond Domenech have created an uneasy atmosphere around the French camp.

The action on Friday starts a 64-match bonanza.

On Saturday, the fabulously talented Lionel Messi and his Argentine teammates coached by the unpredictable Diego Maradona enter the fray against Nigeria and Wayne Rooney leads England in search of their first world crown since 1966.

England's Italian coach Fabio Capello is confident that Rooney will prove against the United States in Rustenburg that he can be one of the tournament's leading players.

"He is in a good moment, he trains very well and he scores goals during training, which is important for him," Capello said. "I think he will play a fantastic World Cup."

European champions Spain, bidding to lift the World Cup for the first time in their history, were due to arrive in South Africa on Friday, the last of the 32 teams to do so.

Bookmakers have installed the gifted Spanish team of Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta and Xavi as the favourites, but they have failed at this level before, and many observers believe Brazil could add a sixth title to their record haul.

Kaka and his Brazilian teammates open their challenge against surprise qualifers North Korea on Tuesday, while Spain take to the pitch for the first time on Wednesday against Switzerland.

First Published: Jun 11, 2010 19:31 IST