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Millions ready for World Cup kickoff

Johannesburg, June 11, 2010

The 2010 World Cup, first to be hosted on African soil, will kick off today (Friday) at the 94,700-capacity Soweto ground with hosts South Africa playing Mexico. The match will be proceeded by an opening ceremony that will see rich African tradition on display.

A Nigerian musician and Grammy Award nominee, Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, is among the top-rated musicians expected to perform at the ceremony that will be watched live by over one billion people across the globe.

Millions of people in South Africa were preparing to leave work early to watch the opening game in the Fifa World Cup, when the Bafana Bafana  (The Boys) national team play Mexico at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto.

"Vuvuzela" trumpets blasted and football chants rang out across South Africa on the eve of the World Cup which Africans hope will transform negative global perceptions of them.

In hotels and training grounds across the vast and beautiful nation, players and coaches of the 32 competing nations had their eyes set on an equally lofty goal - lifting the globe's most coveted sporting prize on July 11.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma unrealistically urged the local "Bafana Bafana" team to bring him the trophy. But the more likely benefit for the hosts is a legacy of tourism, investment and greater social unity.

South Africa go into today's opener against Mexico brimming with confidence after a 12-match unbeaten run.

The majority of 90,000 people in Soccer City will be backing Bafana Bafana with a cacophony of vuvuzelas that have already become a symbol of South Africa 2010.

"This is big history, I can't believe it," local fan Alice Satege said, shaking with tears as she cheered a team parade.

Mexican fans laughing and singing under a statue of Nelson Mandela in sunny Johannesburg yesterday said they had no qualms about spoiling the local party. Other pockets of fans chanted in multiple languages in Nelson Mandela Square.

Uruguay face France in the second match of the 64-game tournament's opening day.

Among foreigners pouring in, none can have taken a more epic journey than a Uruguayan family who have driven 100,000km across 41 nations in a tiny car since early 2007 before reaching the World Cup by ship.

For lowly-ranked South Africa, just reaching the second round - and not becoming the first host nation of a World Cup to go out at the start - would probably be triumph enough.

Meanwhile, many Africans are praying the month-long tournament will counter what they see as old caricatures of hunger, AIDS and crime in world media that fail to grasp the continent's modern face.

But robberies against foreign journalists have undercut that message for thousands of reporters covering the event, giving a reminder of crime as bad as almost anywhere outside a war-zone.




Tags: millions | World Cup kickoff |

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