Welcome to what feels like the most eagerly awaited day in the history of football: June 11, 2010 heralds the kick off on the 19th World Cup. The first to be held on African soil, if you needed reminded. TIME’s World Cup blog will be keeping you updated on all the events taking place at the opening ceremony and that first match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City, Johannesburg. To avoid any confusion, all updates will be timestamped on East Coast time in the U.S. as we are an American site (though the global nature of the beautiful game means that an Englishman is writing about events taking place in South Africa).
7.45am Unfortunately, the world woke up Friday to the tragic news that Nelson Mandela’s great grand-daughter, Zenani Mandela, was killed in a car crash on her way back from the World Cup concert in Soweto Thursday night. It was two days after her 13th birthday and TIME’s thoughts go out to the entire family. The 91 year-old Mandela will understandably not be attending the game today. Click here for the Nelson Mandela Foundation statement.
7.50am The 94,700-capacity stadium, Soccer City, is officially open for business and looks fantastic. South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira (a World Cup winner as a player and manager for Brazil) confidently named his side yesterday.
7.53am I think this quote from South Africa’s World Cup chief Danny Jordaan says it all: “It’s a dream come true, it’s like the day that we thought of going to the polls to vote for the first time, or the day we waited for the prison doors to open and Nelson Mandela to walk out. These are defining moments in our history.”
8.05am Some details on the opening ceremony: It will feature 1,581 performers, including the likes of R Kelly, Hugh Masekela, Nigerian megastar Femi Kuti, Algeria’s Khaled, and South Africa’s very own Hip Hop Pantsula.
8.15am And we’re off! “It’s Africa’s time to shine” is the message of the song which works perfectly with the incredible images of South Africa. Praise poet Zolani Mkhiva is in the middle of the field, and a group of drummers respond to him in what is labeled “The Calling.”
8.17am Section two is called “Africa Lives In All Of Us”: we are all children of Africa is the profound message here. Just look at that beetle!
8.20am Timothy Moloi sings the World Cup anthem “Hope”, in memory of Siphiwo Ntshebe, who tragically passed away from meningitis recently. The 34 year-old was going to perform today.
8.25am Here is Archbishop Desmond Tutu dancing as TKZee and Hip Hop Pantsula take to the stage to sing “Shibobo.” Great scenes.
8.35am The legendary Femi Kuti is followed by America’s very own R Kelly. There’s a sentence you never thought you’d read. He sang “Sign Of A Victory” with the Soweto Spiritual Singers. If you permit me, I do hope there’s no sign of an American victory against England tomorrow but nothing surprises me with my constantly underachieving nation.
8.40am TIME’s Africa Bureau Chief (and fellow Brit) Alex Perry is inside the stadium: check out his take here.
8.50am You know, as opening ceremonies go, that wasn’t half bad. And you simply must have a heart of stone if it didn’t move you.
9.05am And please consider this an open invite to comment on anything and everything World Cup related: from today’s games to tomorrow’s U.S. vs England showdown, top goalscorers, dark horses. You name it, we want to hear about it.
9.10am The question you’ve surely been asking yourself: what’s trending on Twitter?!? The answers: Opening Ceremony Fifa World Cup, Dung Beetle, Desmond Tutu. Yup, that’s right folks: Dung Beetle.
9.15am Team news! We already knew who SA’s XI would be but here it is confirmed. And for more on the man in the middle, read my colleague Tony Karon’s take here.
South Africa: Khune, Gaxa, Mokoena, Thwala, Khumalo, Tshabalala, Pienaar, Modise, Letsholonyane, Dikgacoi, Mphela. Subs: Josephs, Masilela, Ngcongca, Sibaya, Davids, Booth, Parker, Nomvethe, Moriri, Sangweni, Walters, Khuboni.
Mexico: Perez, Rodriguez, Aguilar, Osorio, Salcido, Torrado, Marquez, Juarez, Vela, Franco, Giovani. Subs: Ochoa, Barrera, Castro, Blanco, Hernandez, Moreno, Guardado, Magallon, Torres, Bautista, Medina, Michel.
Referee: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan)
9.25am You can take the man out of England but not England out of the man. TIME’s Alex Perry has this to say from inside Soccer City: “Jesus Christ, it just got louder. I cannot hear the person sitting next to me. At all. Chilly too…”
9.30am Just 30 minutes to go. This might just be the best day in sports: opening day in the World Cup means that a month long festival of football is upon us. You must have a favorite memory (Beckham getting revenge over Argentina in 2002…hope you’re not reading Diego!). For more memories, click here to get you in the mood: a brief history between 1930-2006.
9.35am More from Perry: And look out for what sounds like a loud boo. It’s actually Bafana Bafana supporters cheering their favorite player, Matthew Booth, something of an icon in SA for being white, playing football (well) and marrying a black model.
9.40am Opening games are often cagey affairs and my suspicion is this will be no different, ending 1-1. But if South Africa does score, you’ll hear the roar — and those vuvuzelas — whereever you’re reading this. The goal heard around the world, if you will.
9.45am An interesting game from an English Premier League perspective: South Africa will rely heavily on Everton’s Steven Pienaar while West Ham frontman Guillermo Franco gets the nod in attack in preference to new Manchester United signing Javier Hernandez. What’s more, Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos of Arsenal and Tottenham are also playing.
9.48am Teams out. Surely the greatest two words in the English language.
9.50am TIME’s Perry: The press pen is kind of fun. I was comparing notes with a colleague from the Mail & Guardian, South Africa’s best weekly who said: “You can’t write anything but cliches, man. It’s the biggest, the bestest, the greatest, the most moving.” He’s right. It’s a moment in history. (Damn, there’s another one…)
9.52am “The spirit of Mandela is in Soccer City.” Say what you will about FIFA President Sepp Blatter but the man knows his audience.
9.55am South African President Jacob Zuma takes to the stage, with a message from Mandela: “The game must start. You must enjoy the game.” Zuma then officially opens the 19th World Cup (“humbled by this honor … this is the African World Cup.”) And with that, the vuvuzelas go off the chart.
10.00am National anthems are respectfully heard (any real English fan always wants to hide when “our” supporters boo the opposition anthem) and all we can hope is that the game now lives up to the expectations.
10.02am Zuma and Blatter do their thing, now meeting and greeting the benches. The pair should get a TV show, though what network would be brave enough to air it? Tuned In will have more! (I kid, I kid)
10.05am Kick off! Actually, they’re the two best words in the English language. Here’s some final first game stats (for now): No host nation has ever failed to get beyond the group nor lost their opening game. But did you know that Mexico have played the opening match of the World Cup on four occasions, losing three and drawing one?
10.07am OMG, as the kids say! Giovani with a golden chance to open the scoring for Mexico, as South Africa’s goalkeeper makes a hash of the cross and captain Aaron Mokoena deflects his effort. SA escape with a corner and the nation breaths a collective sigh of relief.
10.08am By the way, how cool was it when the South African team all put their hands on Pienaar’s head? Best moment of the 2010 World Cup by far.
10.15am Mexico just don’t want to let South Africa have the ball and with 10 minutes played, it’s hard to recall anything the host nation has done apart from Pienaar winning a foul. Now watch them go and score the opening goal…
10.18am Speaking of Pienaar, he needs to be careful not to get booked as the ref blows for a high challenge. You don’t want to pin SA hopes on one man but could they really get out of the group if he missed a game through suspension?
10.20am Mexico striker Franco wastes a free header from a corner. As he screams out in anger, he knows another good opportunity has gone begging.
10.21am And that’s why he was so unhappy: South Africa win a free kick in striking distance…but Pienaar’s (who else?) effort doesn’t trouble the goalkeeper. So much for the infamous jabulani ball causing every single goalkeeper a living nightmare.
10.22am First booking goes to Juarez. Could Mexico be getting a tad rattled?
10.23am Mind you, Giovani goes straight down the other end with a strong run and shot just over. The game’s getting lively.
10.24am Perry: We just had a vuvuzela battle across the stadium — 20,000 people on the east vs 20,000 on the west. But the Mexicans on my right are not bad either, and have the HOO-HAA when the keeper does a goal kick totally down.
10.27am The hosts put their best move of the match together, running rare rings around the opposition. The final ball (as so often in this sport) lets them and the entire country down (too profound?)
10.32am It’s 1-1! Er, on the yellow card front. South Africa’s Dikgacoi goes in the book. Marquez can’t do much with the free kick as the jabulani fails to live up to the ridiculous hype for a second time! Such a letdown.
10.36am Half an hour gone and going according to type: It’s Mexico vs Pienaar and the hosts are doing well to stay in this. Then Franco, out of nowhere, controls the ball and deftly flicks it towards the net but goalkeeper Khune is equal to it.
10.39am More sloppiness from South Africa: they give the ball away cheaply in midfield and Vela should have done better with neither a cross nor shot. You feel Bafana Bafana need that half time whistle to blow far more than the Mexicans.
10.40am I couldn’t hold back. Another stat: the last World Cup opener to not have a goal in the first half? USA 1994. Germany still won 1-0 though.
10.42am Wow, what a let off for the hosts. Mexico have what appears to be a perfectly good goal by Vela chalked off for offside. Replays indeed confirm the officials got that one absolutely right. But South Africa won’t be able to hold out for much longer: this is like a boxing match with one man gamely holding on while the other batters away.
10.45am How many chances do you want, Mexico? Franco’s header should be buried in the back of the net but sails harmlessly over.
10.47am South African corner! Can you blame me for the excitement, I can’t recall when they were last in Mexico’s half. Bizarre goalkeeping leads to a second bite at the cherry with a throw near the corner flag. But it comes to nothing…until they attack again with Mphela just missing a header from Tshabalala’s cross. Welcome to the party SA.
10.51am Half time and somehow it’s still South Africa 0-0 Mexico.
11.00am Coming attractions: the second half is almost upon us, and later my colleague Sean Gregory will report from ESPN HQ as he watches the game in 3D (he’s fancy like that). Bill Saporito has already posted ahead of England vs. USA and I’ll be looking back on the 1950 encounter and weeping at the fact that “we” somehow lost to “you.”
11.07am And we’re underway again. Can South Africa hold on? Crazy to be writing that with the game evenly poised at 0-0. Tactical change made at halftime as South Africa make a change at left-back where Tsepo Masilela replaces Lucas Thwala.
11.15am GOAL!!! South Africa score and it’s an absolute beauty!
11.17am Let’s just catch our breath. It’s 1-0 to South Africa and Tshabalala’s strike is a rocket into the top corner which would have graced the World Cup final.
11.18am Mexico make a substitution of their own as Guardado comes on for Aguilar. Meanwhile, captain Torrado gets booked.
11.23am Back to that goal and surely the best opening effort in the history of the World Cup? (Though Germany’s in 2006 was also a bit tasty). And possibly up there in importance in recent South African sporting history with Joel Stransky’s kick that won the rugby World Cup in 1995?
11.28am Mexico are partially saved by the offside flag as Bafana Bafana miss a glorious opportunity to double their lead through Modise. But with just over 20 minutes to play, this is taking on an eerie similarity to Cameroon knocking off fancied Argentina by the same scoreline exactly 20 years ago at the opening to Italia ’90.
11.30am More Mexico changes as the veteran Blanco comes on. And they need him. Meanwhile at the other end, Modise yet again rues a moment that gets away. South Africa suddenly look like world beaters.
11.36am Manchester United fans have a chance to check out their new signing as Javi Hernandez replaces Franco, who could have put this game to bed before Tshabalala wrote his quite brilliant surname into World Cup folklore.
11.40am GOAL!!! Wouldn’t you know it? No sooner do South African fancy a second goal of their own, then the boy from Barca, Marquez, silences those vuvuzelas. It’s 1-1
11.42am To be fair, Bafana Bafana had switched off at the back, perhaps imagining tomorrow’s headlines. If they can hold for a point, there’s still all to play for in Group A.
11.46am That’s more like it as SA’s Khumalo beautifully takes the ball away from Mexican feet to clear the danger. Yet again, as the half comes to a close, only one team want the final whistle to blow.
11.48am Amid the drama, I missed that Pienaar has been replaced by Bernard Parker. His coach must be saving him for the next game, unless he has a knock, which would not be good news for his nation.
11.50am Incredible! In the final minute of the game, Mphela hits the post. What a cruel game this can be. Three minutes injury time to be played.
11.54am A minute left, surely honors will be even…
11.55am FULL TIME Indeed, 1-1 it finishes, and no one will ever forget Tshabalala’s name nor his goal. Mexico deserve their point and South African definitely make theirs. Hope you enjoyed it, thanks for your company.