JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The World Cup’s opening game is being played in the biggest stadium in Africa, an iconic venue redolent with football and political history.
Soccer City, inaugurated in 1989 by the new National Soccer League, was the first stadium independently built for black footballers in the dying days of apartheid, and is the traditional venue for the South African cup final.
On the edge of sprawling Soweto township, it was the site of Nelson Mandela’s first mass rally after his release from 27 years of jail in 1990, and of the tense funeral of black anti-apartheid hero Chris Hani, murdered by a white assassin in 1993 — the year before the elections that ended apartheid.
The stadium has been almost totally rebuilt as a cavernous and eye-catching arena in the shape of a traditional calabash, or African cooking pot.
The outside is clad in various shades of brown and beige to resemble the earthen pot, with a ring of lights which simulate the flames at night.
The bowl shape of the stadium, which has a capacity for the World Cup of around 90,000 is likely to magnify the cacophonous din of the biggest array yet of vuvuzela trumpets, intended to intimidate Mexico in the opening match against the hosts.
Architects say no spectator will be more than 100 meters from the pitch and there are no obstructed views.
Part of the original structure of the stadium has been converted into 10 black vertical lines which align with the other nine World Cup stadiums and Berlin, which hosted the last final of soccer’s greatest trophy in 2006.
The stadium is surrounded by high green hills which are actually tips from the mines that led to the creation of Johannesburg, often called the City of Gold, in the late 19th century, when the rich Witwatersrand reef was discovered.
Soccer City is the showcase stadium of the World Cup and will host the final as well as the opening game and six other matches.
It is one of the six most eye-catching arenas built for Africa’s first World Cup.
The other five from a tournament total of 10, are all new, ranging from Cape Town’s beachside Green Point, shaped like a graceful Victorian bath, to Durban’s spectacular stadium overlooking the Indian Ocean and topped by a Y-shaped arch.
Editing by Michael Holden