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South Africa Unites for Concert, Parties Before World Cup

Colombian singer Shakira performs at the opening concert for the soccer World Cup at Orlando stadium in Soweto, South Africa, 10 jun 2010

South Africa held a star-studded concert and numerous festivals around the country on the eve of Africa's first World Cup football tournament.

Tens of thousands of people packed into Soweto's Orlando stadium Thursday night to watch artists including Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas, and Hugh Masekela.

Thousands of others flocked to special fan parks to watch local bands and fireworks displays. In one such event in Cape Town, three people were injured in a crowd crush.

Enthusiasm in South Africa is extremely high as the country hosts the first World Cup on African soil.

The 32-nation, month-long tournament opens Friday with South Africa taking on Mexico at the newly refurbished Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. South Africa's first post-apartheid president and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, who is 91-years-old, is expected to make a brief appearance at the opening ceremony.

In addition to South Africa, five African countries qualified for this year's World Cup - Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria. South Africa automatically is in the tournament as host nation.

Italy enters the World Cup as defending champion, but Spain, the reigning European champion, and five-time former champion Brazil are considered strong early favorites to win the 2010 title.

No single team is considered an overwhelming favorite to win, especially after key players on several teams recently sustained injuries that either ruled them out of the World Cup, or left them as highly questionable to play.

In the only other match Friday, Uruguay takes on France in Cape Town. On Saturday, the United States opens its World Cup run against England in Rustenburg.

The World Cup is being played in 10 stadiums in South Africa - including Soccer City and Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The other venues are in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Polokwane, Rustenburg, Bloemfontein, and Nelspruit.

Former president Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with then-South African leader Frederik Willem de Klerk for their joint efforts to end apartheid and bring non-racial democracy to South Africa.

The first World Cup football tournament was played in 1930 in Montevideo with host nation Uruguay defeating Argentina for the championship.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.