Egypt welcomes the world
© AFP

A wonderful show, replete with high-tech visuals and fantastic light effects, thrilled a capacity crowd that had been gathering since morning at the Borg El-Arab Military Stadium in Alexandria. The no-expense-spared spectacle, featuring eight giant screens on the pitch and a huge ball in the middle, opened by showcasing the most important tourist sites in Egypt and then those of the participating countries.

To add to the spectacle, another 24 screens were strategically placed around the ground, providing lighting effects during the ceremony and allowing everyone to follow the event in all its glory. The 80,000-seater stadium, the most modern in all of Africa, is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and safety equipment. It also boasts 136 electronic turnstiles through which 800 spectators can pass every minute. Such was the enthusiasm for the opening game and ceremony that every seat in the house was occupied four hours before kick-off.

The official ceremony was set to begin at 18:30 but organisers were forced to begin entertaining the crowd early with unscheduled activities. Making full use of the ground's excellent PA system, organisers had fans singing along to popular songs before whetting their appetite with goals from the previous tournament.  The entertainment continued as a military band entered the arena at exactly 18:00, before the Egypt team made a fleeting appearance to the delight of the vociferous crowd.

The official opening ceremony began with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter making a speech thanking the Egyptian president, his Excellency Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, for hosting what is one of the most important events in world football. He also expressed his delight at being in the fantastic Borg El-Arab stadium and reaffirmed FIFA's desire for Africa to embrace its tournament.

The Egyptian singer Amr Mustafa then took centre stage and entertained the crowd amid an amazing sound and light display and spectacular fireworks. This was followed by a cultural display from the five continents present accompanied by further songs from Mustafa against the backdrop of an illuminated Alexandria sky.

The passionate crowd were certainly in full voice by the end of the ceremony as kick-off, and the night's main attraction, got underway.