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‘Rainbow Nation’ celebrates historic kickoff

Kyodo

With the “Rainbow Nation” ready to stage soccer’s showcase event, excitement reached fever pitch as fans began to stream into Soccer City on Friday ahead of the historic World Cup opening clash between hosts South Africa and Mexico.

Outside the stadium, vuvuzela-blowing South African fans donning their Bafana Bafana uniforms, eagerly awaited the start of the African continent’s first-ever World Cup finals, while supporters of the Mexican team yelled “Go Mexico!”

Phillip Pratt, a South African banker who had queued up at the front from the wee hours before the stadium’s gates opened, showed his enthusiasm with a colorful rendition of the South African flag painted across his forehead.

Pratt, 28, is stationed in Britain but made the trip along with his daughter and parents. It took his parents 10 hours by car to reach their destination and Pratt himself was so excited he had given himself a stomachache.

He said he felt honored that people around the world are focusing their attention on South Africa.

Shashank Mehta, 30, who traveled all the way from Zambia in Southern Africa, said he is here rooting for African teams but he has the highest hopes for Ghana.

He said he was not concerned with crime in Johannesburg during the tournament.

Security around the stadium was tight with barriers set up to prevent vehicles from entering the area and several police checks approaching the stadium.

Mandela absent

JOHANNESBURG (Kyodo) Former South African President Nelson Mandela will not attend the opening ceremony and first match of the World Cup after learning of the tragic death of his great-granddaughter in a car accident, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said Friday.

Zenani Mandela, 13, was traveling in a car returning from the World Cup Kick-Off Concert at Orlando Stadium when the accident occurred in the early hours of Friday.

“It would be inappropriate for him to personally attend the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening celebrations. We are sure that South Africans and people all over the world will stand in solidarity with Mr. Mandela and his family in the aftermath of this tragedy,” the foundation said.

“We continue to believe that the 2010 FIFA World Cup is a momentous and historic occasion for South Africa and the continent and we are certain it will be a huge success. Madiba will be there with you in spirit today.”

Soccer’s showcase event begins later Friday with a match between South Africa and Mexico.

The 91-year-old Mandela has made limited public appearances recently. Whether he would actually attend the opening ceremony was the focus of attention among South African citizens.