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South Africa denied as World Cup carnival kicks off

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • South Africa draw 1-1 with Mexico in opening game of the 2010 World Cup
  • South Africa is the first African nation to host the 80-year-old tournament
  • 32 teams competing for glory; Brazil, Spain considered favorites
  • Fan: "The World Cup is inside us. We are eating, sleeping and feeling it."

(CNN) -- Hosts South Africa opened the 2010 World Cup with a 1-1 draw with Mexico on Friday as the world's greatest sporting spectacle arrived on the African continent for the first time.

An estimated global audience of hundreds of millions watched as the home side's Siphiwe Tshabalala crashed home the first goal of the tournament early in the second half to send Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium into ecstatic celebrations.

Mexico's Rafael Marquez leveled the scores with 11 minutes left, beating goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune from close range. But South Africa's Katlego Mphela missed a golden opportunity to win the match in the final moments as his shot bounced back off the post.

Hosts denied by Marquez equalizer

A deafening drone sounded around the 94,000-capacity showpiece arena as home fans greeted the teams by blowing on vuvuzelas -- the plastic horn that has become a symbol of South African football.

South African President Jacob Zuma, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and FIFA President Sepp Blatter were introduced to the two sides before kickoff.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we as a country are humbled by this honor to host one of the biggest tournaments of the world," Zuma said. "Africa is indeed happy. This is the African World Cup. I declare the 2010 FIFA World Cup open."

Earlier, a spectacular tribal-themed opening ceremony featured a dazzling array of dancers in traditional costumes, as well as music from Grammy winner R Kelly.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was among other dignitaries in attendance but former president Nelson Mandela was absent following the death of his great-grandchild in a car crash early on Friday morning.

FIFA President Blatter paid tribute to Mandela, who was instrumental in South Africa's campaign to host the tournament.

"A dream came true even if he's not here tonight, but the spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City," said Blatter.

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Fans had gathered outside the stadium hours before the gates opened, many dressed in the yellow jersey of the South African team and carrying vuvuzelas and the country's post-apartheid rainbow flag.

Others displayed homemade banners, one reading: "49 million South Africans vs. 11 Mexicans." Another said: "I believe we can win the World Cup! Because this is a country of possibilities."

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"We are all so excited. We woke up at 5 a.m. just to make sure we would get here in time but we only left at 7 because we were singing and dancing at home," Hope Zini, who was first into the stadium, told FIFA.com.

"The World Cup is inside us. We are eating, sleeping and feeling it."

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The month-long tournament, which takes place every four years, marks the World Cup's first visit to the continent of Africa in its 80-year-history. Ten venues around the country will host 64 matches, culminating in the final on July 11 at Soccer City.

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Thirty-two teams are taking part with world champions Italy defending the title they won in Germany four years ago. European champions Spain and five-times winners Brazil are considered the favorites. As well as the hosts, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria are carrying African hopes.

Star players such as the current world footballer of the year Lionel Messi of Argentina, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Brazil's Kaka and England's Wayne Rooney are hoping to follow in the footsteps of former legends such as Pele and Diego Maradona by writing their names into World Cup history.

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South Africa's team -- who rank just 83rd in the world -- face a massive challenge if they are to avoid becoming the first host nation to be eliminated in the first round. South Africa have won just one match in their two previous appearances at the World Cup.

After Mexico, they also face France and Uruguay, who drew 0-0 later Friday in Cape Town. The top two teams from each of eight four-team groups advance to a knockout round of 16.

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The tournament could be the loudest World Cup ever due to South African fans' habit of turning up to matches with vuvuzelas -- a plastic horn which has attracted criticism from some players and officials because of its ear-splitting noise levels.

"This World Cup will have a completely different sound to any other," said Pinto. "I've never seen anything like this," said CNN's Pedro Pinto. "Africa is ready for an historic moment. You can really feel the energy in the air."

But there was sadness Friday over the death of Mandela's 13-year-old great-grandchild, Zenani Mandela, in a car crash as he was returning home from a World Cup kickoff concert in Soweto.

Mandela, an icon of black South Africans' struggle against white rule, played a key role in bringing the World Cup to South Africa. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the 91-year-old would be "be with us in spirit."

"The entire football family mourns with you and your family, and today we stand by their side," Blatter wrote in a letter to Mandela.

The World Cup is the world's biggest sporting event with FIFA, football's governing body, predicting a cumulative TV audience for the tournament of more than 26 billion.

Just seven countries have won the World Cup, which was first staged in Uruguay in 1930. Brazil have won five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002); Italy four times (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006); Germany (as West Germany) three times (1954, 1974, 1990); Argentina twice (1978, 1986), and England (1966) and France (1998) once each.

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