But former President Nelson Mandela missed the opening ceremony after a car crash in Soweto killed his great-granddaughter, Zenani. Zenani Mandela, 13, died when the car taking her home from a pre-competition concert in Soweto overturned.
The spectacular and vibrant opening ceremony that took place at the 94,000-capacity Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg was followed by the first game of the tournament between South Africa and Mexico.
However, South Africa was denied a winning start in the competition by Mexico’s last minute equaliser.Meanwhile, the Super Eagles yesterday arrived Johannesburg from their Protea Hotel Waterfront in Richard’s Bay camp amidst high hopes and have promised not to let the country down in today’s Group B match against Argentina at Ellis Park.
Both countries have a history of football encounters in different tournaments, but today’s match will be the third meeting at the World Cup level.
The first was at USA ’94 when Nigeria lost 1-2, while the second was at Korea/Japan 2002, which Nigeria lost 0-1.
Speaking on arrival, captain of the side, Nwankwo Kanu said: “This is really exciting. I have been in two FIFA World Cup finals before but this is kind of special. This is being hosted in Africa and we have a real chance of doing something.”
Left back Taye Taiwo, who played against Argentina’s Under-20 team which defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the final of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in the Netherlands in 2005, added: “I was not happy that we lost that day in Utrecht against Argentina because we worked so hard. But for sure, this is payback time.
“We know Messi is a good player and we can’t allow him to roam round the pitch just like that. But we also have our great players. They’ve got a couple of great players and we’ve also got a couple of great players.”
Super Eagles had a feel of the Ellis Park Stadium at about 5.30 p.m. South African time, after which Coach Lagerback, skipper Kanu, vice captain Joseph Yobo and defender Dele Adeleye addressed the media.
Obafemi Martins, however, warned that the Eagles must look beyond Lionel Messi to get a result against Argentina today.
“People talk a lot about Messi, forgetting that there are other very good players in the Argentine team, such as Carlos Tevez and Diego Milito. It’s a team game and we also have our own stars for the day.”
Tickets for the Argentina versus Nigeria encounter, which is billed for 3.00 p.m. local time, have sold out.
President Goodluck Jonathan is also said to have met with the players this evening in their hotel in Johannesburg during which he encouraged them to go all out to beat the Argentines.
The 40-minute opening ceremony at the Soccer City Stadium began with a five-plane military fly past over the stadium, which resembles a huge African cooking pot.
A group of drummers and dancers performed a ‘Welcome to Africa’ song that included an introduction to all 10 tournament venues.
The next sequence saw a gigantic beetle show off its football skills with the Jabulani – the official football of the finals – before large pieces of cloth were used to show a map of the continent.
Musicians and artists from the other African finalists – Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria – also had their chance to perform in a joint sequence.
Multiple Grammy Award winner R Kelly then sang the ceremony’s showpiece song, ‘Sign of a Victory’ with South Africa’s Soweto Spiritual Singers.But one of the loudest cheers was reserved for Mandela, whose image appeared on screens to a message of hope from him in song.
Not everyone made it to their seats by the start, with traffic problems delaying some fans.But Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Jacob Zuma were in attendance, along with the likes of President Goodluck Jonathan; United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; Mexican President Felipe Calderon; Prince Albert of Monaco and United States Vice President Joe Biden.
The festivities began in earnest on Thursday night, with Shakira among the artistes at a vast pre-tournament concert in Soweto.
The Colombian pop star performed the official World Cup song Waka Waka and was joined by a cast of international stars, including the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys, along with African stars Amadou & Mariam and Hugh Masekela.
For South Africa, what was supposed to be a day of celebration began yesterday with the formal announcement that the great-granddaughter of Mandela, former president and icon, had tragically died in a car crash on Thursday.
The 91-year-old Mandela stayed away from the opening ceremony – which preceded the game – to mourn, but through President Jacob Zuma, who declared the World Cup open, he asked people to “enjoy the game”.
Zenani was one of the 91-year-old anti-apartheid icon’s nine great-grandchildren.The Nelson Mandela Foundation released a statement saying it would be “inappropriate” for Mandela, a former South African president, to be at the opening ceremony.
“We are sure that South Africans and people all over the world will stand in solidarity with Mandela and his family in the aftermath of this tragedy.
“We continue to believe that the World Cup is a momentous and historic occasion for South Africa and the continent and we are certain it will be a huge success,” added the statement.
Mexico’s Rafael Marquez struck 12 minutes from time to deny hosts South Africa a winning start to the World Cup at Soccer City Stadium.
Marquez controlled Andres Guardado’s cross at the back post and rifled past Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune to ensure the spoils were shared after a breathless opening to the tournament.The Mexicans were the better team throughout, but they fell behind when South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala fired in a left-foot thunderbolt from an angle on the left to give the hosts a lead in which their supporters revelled.
Tshabalala, a 25-year-old Soweto-born left winger for Kaizer Chiefs, wrote his name down in football folklore with a strike of such pure quality that it almost took a second for him to realise what he had done.
In an atmosphere bordering on ecstasy in Johannesburg, Tshabalala’s screamer threatened to provide the 19th World Cup with the fairytale beginning it was hoping for, before Marquez and Mexico intervened.
Even then, South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira saw his team almost snatching it in the dying moments, only for striker Katlego Mphela to agonisingly roll a shot against the post with keeper Oscar Perez beaten.
Yet over the 90 minutes, Parreira and his side were perhaps lucky to get away with a draw themselves in front of a partisan 84,490 crowd as Mexico failed to turn their startling superiority into victory.
It is unlikely many of the South African fans enjoyed the first 54 minutes of their moment in the global footballing spotlight as their team were comprehensively outplayed by a Mexico side that knocked the ball around the gorgeous surface with consummate skill and ease.
Meanwhile, the second match in Group A between France and Paraguay, which was played after the opener between South Africa and Mexico, ended goalless as both sides failed to hit the back of the net after 90 minutes on the pitch.
This means all four teams in the group ended with one point a piece and will be eager to improve their tally in subsequent matches.