South Africa proved the doubters wrong and pulled it out of the bag -- on and off the pitch. One of the most enjoyable opening ceremonies most of us can remember, rousing but reassuringly brief speeches from Sepp Blatter and Jacob Zuma, stadiums packed with noisy fans, and a first game to savor. Although the day has had a hint of sadness given the absence of Nelson Mandela, grieving the loss of his great-granddaughter Thursday, June 11 will go down as a barn-storming success in a nation many feared wouldn't get the stadiums finished, let alone put people in them and show them a good time. Even the referees have been excellent so far.
France's Abou Diaby stood out in a pretty dreadful match between Uruguay and France, and Paul Aguilar justified his selection decent at right back for Mexico, looking dangerous down the flank and putting in some decent crosses.
Aaron Mokoena's decision not to push out when the rest of his back line did wasn't the best, but Nicolas Lodeiro getting sent off 18 minutes after coming on for Uruguay earns him the title. His side looked capable of stealing a march on France, especially once he replaced Ignacio Gonzalez, but a badly-timed lunge at Bacary Sagna's standing leg ensured it ended the game defending the draw.
Siphiwe Tshabalala will take all the plaudits for his barnstorming goal (see below), but winger Teko Modise was quietly influential for South Africa, even if he did poke a decent chance wide with the game still at 0-0.
It turns out, almost nobody understands the offside rule! About 37 minutes into the opening game, South Africa's 'keeper Itumeleng Khune came off his line and flapped at a Gerardo Torrado corner, which eventually reached Carlos Vela, who took the ball on his chest and walked the ball into the net. The referee's assistant immediately flagged for offside, leaving half the Twitter population -- and, reportedly, ESPN's commentators -- astounded, and bad-mouthing anybody who dared to say it was a good call. Khune's ill-judged dash to the six-yard line was what saved Bafana Bafana in the end; when Guillermo Franco nodded the corner on, Vela was beyond the goalkeeper and thus only had one defender between him and the goal. If you still don't understand why that's offside, you probably need to read this.
There were only two to choose from, and Siphiwe Tshabalala's strike would have been good enough to see off competition from almost anything else anyway. Ten minutes into the second half against Mexico, Katlego Mphela played a beautifully weighted pass through the defense, allowing a galloping Tshabalala to bypass the attentions of Ricardo Osorio and onto the ball on the edge of the area. He struck it perfectly with his laces, lashing it past an indecisive Oscar Perez and into the far corner.
Raymond Domenech's failure to act from the dugout as the second game of the day petered out ranks as some of the most catastrophically hands-off management we're likely to see in the next few weeks. When he finally did get it together, with 19 minutes remaining and Uruguay looking to steal a goal, he took Nicolas Anelka off and left Sidney Govou on: sum difference between their contributions, about 75%. And when Govou made way for Andre Gignac with only five minutes left, Domenech failed to move things around up front, leaving Ribery too central to worry Uruguay, who, having gone down to 10 men when Lodeiro was sent off on 80 minutes, were happy to sit on the edge of the area and defend.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we as a country are humbled by this honor to host one of the biggest tournaments of the world. Africa is indeed happy. This is the African World Cup ... I declare the 2010 FIFA World Cup open" -- South African president Jacob Zuma gets the whole shebang underway.
Shots on target in South Africa v Mexico: 47 percent. Shots on target in Uruguay v France: 24 percent. The game was about 100 percent better, too.
Everyone seemed to come through both games today unscathed. Elsewhere, Sven-Goran Eriksson has said it's up to Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba to decide whether he's fit to play or not; England's Gareth Barry looks to be recovering from an ankle injury in time to make the bench against the U.S. tomorrow; Sulley Muntari could be back for Ghana on Sunday.
It's the big one, England v USA. Fabio Capello has promised a spirited and compact England performance, while Bob Bradley says the U.S. will "find a good balance between aggressive and smart". Wonder if that applies to Jay DeMerit's promise to wind Wayne Rooney up tight enough to see the Manchester United striker get himself sent off?
There's also some other soccer happening: South Korea and Greece meet in Group B's first match, then Argentina take on Nigeria. The Koreans have a fast game but its success will depend on how well Greek midfielder Georgios Karagounis imposes himself on the tempo of the game. This is the third time in a row Argentina has faced an African side in the first game, and is 2-0-0 so far. Coach Diego Maradona is hoping to exploit the Nigerian's shaky defense, while Nigeria is focusing on supposedly not focusing on Argentine star Lionel Messi.