World Cup opens in a blaze of colour

The world's biggest sporting event opens in Africa with a dazzling burst of joy, colour and noise - and a hint of sadness.

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JOHANNESBURG // The first World Cup ever held in Africa opened today in a dazzling burst of joy, color and noise - and just a tinge of sadness. Before a jubilant, horn-blowing crowd at Soccer City, the spectacular stadium between Johannesburg and Soweto, hundreds of African dancers in vivid greens, reds and yellows paraded onto the field for the opening ceremony of the month-long tournament. Most of the fans were in the yellow jerseys of Bafana Bafana, the host country's team, which was playing Mexico following the pageantry.

The elation was tempered by news that Nelson Mandela, the revered anti-apartheid leader and former president, would not attend the ceremony. The 91-year-old Mandela is frail and decided not to come after his 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash on the way home from Thursday night's World Cup concert. Several other icons of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa were on hand - including Mandela's former wife, Winnie, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who at one point was dancing in his seat to the music.

Former South Africa President FW De Klerk, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for negotiating an end to white-minority rule, also was present, organisers said. Other VIPs included the presidents of South Africa and Mexico - Jacob Zuma and Felipe Calderon - and the US vice president Joe Biden. It was not an occasion for those who dislike noise. Many of the fans came equipped with vuvuzelas - the plastic horns which emit a loud and distinctive blare. Incredibly, the din from the horns was briefly drowned out by the overflight of military jets just before the ceremony started.

The public address announcer then pleaded with the crowd to ease up on the horns 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 Kelly, performed. Cast members brought out large placards with the flags of the 32 nations competing in the tournament, holding them high as a final burst of fireworks ended the show.

Soccer City, which seats more than 90,000, was not full at the start of the ceremony. Thousands of fans were stuck in traffic jams on roads leading to the stadium - regaled along the way by groups of dancing, chanting young people in Bafana shirts and by vendors selling the multicolored South African flag. *AP