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World Cup off to a flyer
It started and finished with a dazzling fighter jet overhead flypast. In between, it was the mother of all opening ceremonies. Exciting, gripping, spectacular, moving. The perfect hors d'oeuvre to the main course that was to follow.

Under a cloudless winter sky on the edge of Soweto, the first World Cup on African soil got under way on Friday with an intoxicating rhythmic mix of tribal music, chanting, dance and costume that simply took one's breath away.

Details of the 40-minute ceremony, masterminded by South African producer Lebo M - famous for his work on The Lion King - had been a closely guarded secret.

But right on time, Soccer City stadium was transformed into a blaze of colour to herald, given its symbolic nature, arguably the most eagerly awaited World Cup of recent decades.

The stadium announcer asked the thousands inside not to blow their vuvuzelas, those multi-coloured plastic trumpets that form such a vital part of Africa's football culture. He must have been joking.

As a three-minute countdown played out on the stadium screens, the vuvuzelas screeched to a deafening cacophony. From then on, it was pure magic with a cast of 1,500, the youngest just six years old, portraying the story of South Africa - the traditional and contemporary, the cities and the veldt - with the kind of choreography and precision that augured well for the rest of the tournament.

The globally televised spectacular was, in effect, a snapshot of the Rainbow Nation, starting with nine drummers entering from different corners of this most iconic of stadiums that has surely already entered the annals of unique sporting arenas.

Built in the shape of an orange and brown African calabash, a vast cooking pot simmering above a ring of fire, the 94,000-capacity arena veritably throbbed with anticipation and patriotism as, one by one, each tournament stadium staging games for the next month was called out.

Among the neat touches in the stadium design are seats that point towards all other South African World Cup cities and towards Berlin, the venue for the 2006 World Cup final. The players' tunnel has been built to resemble the inside of a gold mine, for so long such an important industry.

Among those performing were Thaniswa Mazwai, one of the founding members of the Kwaito music scene, the smooth-tongued Timothy Moloi and the legendary Hugh Masakela - trumpeter, lyricist and composer and the grandfather of the Afrobeat and jazz/funk scene - who teamed up with 1970's band Osibisa to perform their famous anthem, Sunshine Day.

In between a giant dung beetle was wheeled on to the tarpaulin-covered pitch representing agricultural progress, followed by an equally huge Jabulani, the official match ball being used during the tournament and meaning 'rejoice' in Zulu.

Then there was the special homage to the six African nations that have qualified, dance routines by all manner of troupes and giant flags representing the competing nations.

It was breathtaking stuff and had just about everything - except one thing. The tragic death in a car accident of one of Nelson Mandela's great-grandchildren meant the founder of modern South Africa and the country's most esteemed anti-apartheid icon could not be there. Was he missed? Of course he was. But the show had to go on. This was, after all, only the beginning.
 
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