The Confederations Cup is underway in South Africa, after an opening ceremony at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium. In the opening match, South Africa played to a scoreless tie with Iraq.
It was a cool, sunny afternoon in Johannesburg, as South Africa took a large step in its preparations for the 2010 World Cup, with the opening of the Confederations Cup in front of nearly 50,000 spectators at Ellis Park stadium.
The pre-match atmosphere was a mixture of jubilance and expectation, as the countdown wound towards the opening whistle of the first match. Fans lined the streets outside the stadium from the early morning, and the stadium slowly filled to near capacity as the opening ceremony drew near.
The crowd was anxious to see the match get underway, and put an end to the long wait for international soccer on the highest level in South Africa. Patrick Clocoyi is a tour operator from Johannesburg who attended the match.
"I am so excited," said Patrick Clocoyi. "I can not even describe the feeling that I have. It has been a long time since we have waited for this coming to South Africa, and Africa in general, to be precise. As we have managed to host the Confederations Cup, that in itself is a great achievement. So whether win or lose we will not be disappointed next year."
The opening ceremony involved an original choreography of African dance and what was described by organizers as an explosion of colors representing the diversity of the country known as the rainbow nation.
As kickoff approached, FIFA President Joseph Blatter took the field alongside South African President Jacob Zuma. In his opening remarks, Blatter emphasized FIFA's on-going support for football in South Africa, and the continent in general, before Mr. Zuma took the stage.
"I would like to declare the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup open," said President Zuma.
The crowd was jubilant at kickoff, but became gradually more subdued as they witnessed a drab affair without much quality soccer for the better part of the match. The Iraqis seemed content to sit back and counterattack, while the South Africans did their best to muster occasional chances.
The game livened up significantly in the final quarter hour, when South African coach Joel Santana made a pair of changes that breathed life into the attack of the Bafana Bafana. The hosts nearly snatched victory as time ran down, when Kagisho Dikgacoi powered a header that beat the Iraqi goalkeeper. But the South Africans found only dismay when the shot hit fellow South African striker Bernard Parker and ricocheted away from the open goal.
South African striker Stephen Peinaar reflected on the opening match.
"It is disappointing," said Stephen Peinaar. "We were expecting to win and we took it upon ourselves, and to get a draw was very disappointing. But we still have two games and it is now behind us. We just have to go forward."
The Confederations Cup continues when European champion Spain takes on New Zealand. Monday features two matches - Egypt will play Brazil, while defending World Cup champion Italy takes on the United States.