South Africa begins World Cup party - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

South Africa begins World Cup party

10/06/2010 08:05:29 PM Comments (0)

Nelson Mandela hailed the World Cup as a chance to break down barriers as hosts South Africa kicked off the month-long party on Thursday with a star-studded concert on the eve of the competition.

As international artists such as Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys prepared to take to the stage at the historic Orlando stadium in Soweto, the township's most famous ex-resident welcomed a new chance to combat prejudice.

"The 2010 World Cup is more than just a simple game," Mandela, the country's first black president said in a message to football's governing body FIFA.

"It symbolises the power of football to bring people together regardless of their language, colour of their skin, their politics or religion."

As the last of the 32 teams flew in, South Africa was caught up in a wave of euphoria not seen since the demise of the whites-only apartheid regime and Mandela's election 16 years ago.

Flag sellers who set up stalls by traffic lights struggled to keep up with demand and even police officers wore jackets in South Africa's six national colours.

Tens of thousands took to the streets of Johannesburg on Wednesday to cheer on the Bafana Bafana (the Boys) national side as they paraded in an open-top bus, whipping up extra fervour ahead of their debut match on Friday against Mexico.

The front-page of the Citizen proclaimed "Bafana Mania!" while an editorial in the same paper said the outbreak of patriotism in a country which is still struggling to bridge a racial divide can only be a force for good.

"For one brief shining moment we can forget the problems that beset the country and hopefully build on the enthusiasm and patriotism sweeping the land," it said.

In The Star newspaper, even the paper's cookery pages were caught up in the excitement, including a recipe for chocolate brownies with tequila sauce in a nod to South Africa's challengers on Friday.

"South Africans are late believers but once they believe, they are fanatical believers," said Danny Jordaan, the chief executive of the local organising committee, at a final pre-tournament session with reporters.

Jordaan was particularly excited by the prospect of an appearance by Mandela at Friday's opener but still sounded a note of caution that the 91-year-old would be able to attend.

"As things stand now, there is a very, very great chance that, in fact, he'll be there because he wants to be there," he said.

"How long he will stay, that is really his decision. But we'll just be happy if he shows his face."

Ever since it became the first African nation to win the right to stage the tournament six years ago, South Africa has had to fend off claims that its high crime rate, lack of infrastructure and rudimentary public transport system rendered it an unsuitable choice.

But work at all the 10 host stadiums has been completed on time while a series of signature World Cup infrastructure projects are also now up and running, including Africa's first high-speed rail link.

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