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South Africa 2010 turns globe into Planet Football

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Fans ready for South Africa vs. Mexico
  • South Africa 2010 is the first time the World Cup has been staged in Africa
  • The inaugural World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930
  • This year's tournament sees 32 teams contest the trophy
  • FIFA boasts more than 200 member states -- more than the United Nations

(CNN) -- South Africa becomes the center of global attention Friday as the World Cup, sport's most avidly followed competition, kicks off four weeks of soccer action both on and off the pitch.

Thousands of spectators from Africa and around the world are expected to pack the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg for the opening ceremony ahead of the opening match at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET) between hosts South Africa -- known as "Bafana Bafana" -- and Mexico.

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Everyday life will stop for millions of fans around the world -- albeit temporarily -- as they follow the tournament on television, radio and online, including social media networks such as Twitter.

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Former South African president Nelson Mandela is expected to attend the kickoff, his grandson Nkosi Mandela said Tuesday -- but will not be able to stay for the whole of the match.

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Mandela, who is 91, played a key role in bringing the World Cup to South Africa but has made limited public appearances recently, although he did meet the South Africa squad last week.

Pre-tournament celebrations have included a concert staged in Soweto on Thursday that featured Hugh Masakela and the Black Eyed Peas.

The World Cup is arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, with only the Summer Olympics commanding as much global attention. FIFA, soccer's governing body, predicts a cumulative TV audience for the tournament of 26.29 billion viewers.

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South Africa 2010 marks the first time that the tournament, which was inaugurated in 1930 and is held every four years, has been staged in Africa.

It follows FIFA efforts to take the tournament from soccer's traditional heartlands in Europe and South America to relatively under-developed markets such as the U.S. (1994) and South Korea and Japan (2002).

FIFA now boasts more than 200 member states -- more than the United Nations.

Argentina, Germany, Brazil and current world champions Italy have each won the current trophy, introduced in 1974, twice.

Brazil was allowed to keep the original trophy after winning it for a third time in 1970.

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The finals, which will take in 64 matches and run for a month, are the climax of a three-year qualification campaign, which kicked off in August 2007 when New Caledonia beat Tahiti 1-0.

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