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'The spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City' GRIEVING NELSON STILL INSPIRES MILLIONS.

Byline: MARTIN FRICKER

NELSON Mandela gave the World Cup a perfect opening despite suffering personal tragedy.

Absent from yesterday's spectacular ceremony because of his great granddaughter Zenani's death, he still declared in a message: "The game must start."

And Sepp Blatter, president of football's governing body Fifa, summed up the feelings of millions of South Africans, saying: "A dream came true even if he's not here tonight. The spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City."

Almost 90,000 fans watched the opening ceremony and game inside the Soweto stadium as an estimated one billion viewers saw the historic event on TVs across the globe.

Millions more watched on big screens in South Africa's cities and townships.

After six years' preparation and tens of billions of pounds, the World Cup was in Africa for the first time. President Jacob Zuma announced: "Africa is happy. This is the African World Cup. The time for Africa has come. It has arrived.

"We, as a country, are humbled by this honour to host one of the biggest tournaments in the world."

He read Mandela's words: "The game must start. You must enjoy the game."

Yet the day was tinged with sadness following the death in a car crash of Zenani, 13, the previous evening.

She was in a car which overturned returning from the official World Cup Kick-Off Concert in Johannesburg.

The driver was charged with drink driving and causing the death.

Officials refused to confirm rumours the driver was a relative of Mandela, 91, whose spokesman said the former president needed time to deal with his family's tragedy.

Mr Blatter later wrote to Mandela to express sorrow at his sad loss.

He wrote: "The entire football family mourns with you and your family."

Yet the ceremony delighted the watching millions. Lasting 40 minutes, it featured dancers holding flags of each nation and a giant dung beetle.

A total of1,581 artists took part in the spectacle, which began with a fly-past by the South African Air Force.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, US vice-president Joe Biden and Archbishop Desmond Tutu all attended.

After it ended, the South African team danced their way down the tunnel and into history. The noise around the stadium was deafening.

In Johannesburg there was traffic chaos, which caused delays resulting in many empty seats during the opening ceremony.

Tens of thousands of football supporters - including many England fans - gathered at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

Several large screens had been put up at the world famous Waterfront entertainment complex to watch the event. Dozens of supporters were forced to climb on top of ice cream and drinks kiosks to see the action. Enjoying the fun were Elaine and Keith Rattray, from Woburn, Bucks.

Keith, 66, said: "The atmosphere is way beyond what we expected. It's fantastic. Everyone is out to have a good time."

Elaine, 67, added: "The noise is incredible.

It is just the time of our lives."

The South African team and Mexico drew the opening game 1-1. South Africa took the lead after 55 minutes when Siphiwe Tshabalala hit a stunning left-foot shot past Mexican keeper Oscar Perez to spark wild and deafening scenes inside the stadium - and across the whole country.

The joy was cut short when Mexico equalised yet South Africa almost grabbed victory in the final minute as Katlego Mphela's shot hit the post.

But the day was about the occasion and every South African left the stadium grinning from ear to ear.

Home fan Jessica Townsend said: "This was more than about football - it was about South Africa the country.

"I'm so proud I could cry."

CAPTION(S):

LOVING Mandela and Zenani JOKERS Mexico fans get in the carnival mood before big kick-off CELEBRATION South Africa score first goal TASTY Dancers and giant cooking pot, which inspired stadium A BLAST Nozipho Mkhonto, 7, blows vuvuzela horn SUPPORT Excited fans cheer on home nation South Africa LONDON South Africa fans cheer in Trafalgar Square yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Jun 12, 2010
Words:665
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