Celebrations Underway As World Cup Begins

SportsHeads of StateFIFA World CupGovernmentNelson MandelaDeathHugh Masekela

JOHANNESBURG -- The first World Cup ever held in Africaopened Friday in a dazzling burst of joy, color and noise - andjust a tinge of sadness.

Before a jubilant, horn-blowing crowd in Soccer City, thespectacular stadium between Johannesburg and Soweto, hundreds ofAfrican dancers in vivid greens, reds and yellows paraded onto thefield for the opening ceremony of the monthlong tournament.

Most of the fans were in the yellow jerseys of Bafana Bafana,the host country's team, with a few pockets of green - fans ofMexico, South Africa's foe in the opening match.

The elation was tempered by news that Nelson Mandela, therevered anti-apartheid leader and former South African president,would not attend the ceremony. The 91-year-old Mandela is frail,and decided not to come after his 13-year-old great-granddaughterwas killed in a car crash on the way home from Thursday night'sWorld Cup concert.

South African President Jacob Zuma, a scarf in national colorsaround his neck, told the crowd just before kickoff that he had amessage from Mandela: "The game must start. You must enjoy thegame."

Zuma was joined at midfield by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whodepicted this World Cup as a triumph for Africa, and added "Thespirit of Mandela is in Soccer City."

The crowd then rose for the Mexican and South African nationalanthems - the latter a fusion of the main hymn of theanti-apartheid movement and the anthem of the former white-minoritygovernment.

Then it was time for kickoff and the horns sounded louder thanever, like a swarm of bees amplified to near-deafening levels.

Several icons of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africawere on hand - including Mandela's former wife, Winnie, and

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who at one point was dancing in his seatto the music.

Former South Africa President F.W. De Klerk, who shared a NobelPeace Prize with Mandela for negotiating an end to white-minorityrule, also was present, organizers said.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also was among the VIPs.

It was not an occasion for those who like it quiet. Many of thefans came equipped with vuvuzelas - the plastic horns which emit aloud and distinctive blare. Incredibly, the din they made wasbriefly drowned out by the overflight of military jets just beforethe ceremony started.

The public address announcer then begged the crowd to ease up onthe noise 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. Kelley, performed. Castmembers brought out large placards with the flags of the 32 nationscompeting in the tournament, holding them high as a final burst offireworks ended the show.

Soccer City, which seats more than 90,000, wasn't yet full atthe start of the ceremony. Thousands of fans were stuck in trafficjams on roads leading to the stadium - regaled along the way bygroups of dancing, chanting young people in Bafana shirts and byvendors selling the multicolored South African flag.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsHeads of StateFIFA World CupGovernmentNelson MandelaDeathHugh Masekela