JOHANNESBURG – The first World Cup ever held in Africa opened Friday in a dazzling burst of joy, color and noise — and just a tinge of sadness.
Before a jubilant, horn-blowing crowd in 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 monthlong tournament.
Most of the fans were in the yellow jerseys of Bafana Bafana, the host country's team, with a few pockets of green — fans of Mexico, South Africa's foe in the opening match.
The elation was tempered by news that Nelson Mandela, the revered anti-apartheid leader and former South African 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.
South African President Jacob Zuma, a scarf in national colors around his neck, told the crowd just before kickoff that he had a message from Mandela: "The game must start. You must enjoy the game."
Zuma was joined at midfield by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who depicted this World Cup as a triumph for Africa, and added "The spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City."
The crowd then rose for the Mexican and South African national anthems — the latter a fusion of the main hymn of the anti-apartheid movement and the anthem of the former white-minority government.
Then it was time for kickoff and the horns sounded louder than ever, like a swarm of bees amplified to near-deafening levels.
Several icons of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa were on hand — including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who at one point was dancing in his seat to the music.
Former South Africa President F.W. De Klerk, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for negotiating an end to white-minority rule, also was present, organizers said.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden also was among the VIPs.
It was not an occasion for those who like it quiet. Many of the fans came equipped with vuvuzelas — the plastic horns which emit a loud and distinctive blare. Incredibly, the din they made was briefly drowned out by the overflight of military jets just before the ceremony started.
The public address announcer then begged the crowd to ease up on the noise 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, wasn't yet 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.