JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s vuvuzelas blared again at Soccer City on Saturday as the former World Cup host opened the African Cup of Nations with the distinct sound that grabbed the globe’s attention three years ago.
A huge wooden puppet of a boy in a red t-shirt with a football at his feet watched over the 40-minute opening ceremony which started with dancers knocking over walls. Hundreds of energetic performers wore traditional African outfits with acrobats bouncing on trampolines — which then turned into the flags of the 16 countries competing at Africa’s top tournament.
Through it all, the sound of the bleating vuvuzelas, South African football’s most famous and recognizable item, was near constant from fans watching in light rain on the bright orange seats of the stadium near Soweto that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.
The end of each section of the ceremony was greeted loudly by the horns as supporters began to fill the cavernous stadium for the opening game between the host and tournament first-timer Cape Verde.
South African president Jacob Zuma was at the stadium, and organizers said the opening game was an 87,000 sellout.
After the dancing and singing, history-making double amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius, who competed at the London Olympics last year, led out a group of children carrying the flag of the Confederation of African Football, Africa’s football body and the organizers of the Cup of Nations.
At one point after the main part of the ceremony, an announcer had to ask the crowd to stop blowing their vuvuzelas for the African Union anthem to be played. The fans obeyed, and then burst into more horn blowing at the end of the anthem.
Earlier, the dancers had knocked over fake stone walls representing some of the continent’s challenges and were inscribed with the words poverty, illiteracy, disease and famine.
People carrying giant red blue, green, yellow and white balls then weaved in and out in an elaborate act that ended with them creating an image of South Africa’s multi-colored flag.
Persistent rain earlier had forced fans wearing the yellow shirts of South Africa’s national team, Bafana Bafana, into the shelter of the inner parts of the stadium, but the ceremony drew them out to blow on their vuvuzelas and cheer the performers.
The noise reached a crescendo as the first South African players emerged from the tunnel to warm up on the pitch after the opening ceremony, then turned quickly to some boos when Cape Verde’s players ran out.
South Africa’s game with Cape Verde, which has qualified for a major tournament for the first time in its history, will be followed Saturday at Soccer City by the other opening Group A game, Morocco versus Angola.
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