Johannesburg — Musicians, dancers and fans braved the rain to make the African championship opening gala a resounding success.
Some of South Africa's finest artists lit up the kick-off ceremony of the 2013 African Cup of Nations (CAN) on Saturday (January 19th) in Johannesburg.
Football fans soaked up the upbeat rhythms of music and dance based on the theme, "The Beat of Africa's Feet". A colourful show featured performers knock down large installations resembling walls that symbolised barriers that drag the continent down.
Hundreds performed in the drizzly rain, dressed in colours from around the continent. But the rain did not dampen the spirit of the dancers or fans. The opening ceremony featured cheers from vuvuzelas, drumbeats and acrobatic stunts.
Former South African President and global peace icon Nelson Mandela appeared in homage on the big screen, as well as South African Paralympics champion Oscar Pistorius.
South African President Jacob Zuma then officially opened the 29th tournament.
The kick-off match between hosts and debutants Cape Verde ended in a goalless draw. Morocco then faced Angola in a Group A contest. The game also ended in a nil draw after the Moroccans passed up opportunities to win. Nevertheless, the Atlas Lions seemed well-organised and effective on the field.
Younes Belhanda made a distinguished effort in the 20th minute when he dribbled the Angolan defenders. However, his shot narrowly missed the post.
"We've played against a strong team, and the players did their role," coach Rachid Taoussi said. "In the first half of the match, we were closer to scoring at least one goal which could have given us the match points. We were present as far as the physical and technical sides are concerned."
"However, there was a change in the second half in favour of the Angolans, who posed some danger to our goal," he added. "We are just at the beginning of forming a competitive team that needs some patience so as to reach the desired goals. We'll try to overcome our mistakes in the second match against Cape Verde on Wednesday."
Scores of Maghreb fans attended the game, especially Algerians who have a thriving community in South Africa. They came to support their Moroccan brothers and were joined by Tunisians.
Carthage Eagles carry Tunisian hopes
The tournament has yet to start for the Tunisians, but Sami Trabelsi's squad is in for a tough fight. They compete in Group D against Algeria, Togo and Ivory Coast.
The pressure is high on the Carthage Eagles, but football players are determined to honour their fans' dreams.
"We've worked seriously in the two training camps in Doha and Abu Dhabi," midfielder Khaled Mouelhi told Echourouk. "We have a strong will to play a championship with our peak performance."
Tunisians' first match will be played against Algerians on Tuesday.
"Our match against Algeria is important, but we' won't be focusing on it only, as we'll try to score two positive results against Ivory Coast and Togo. Therefore, we are required to deal seriously with the three teams," Mouelhi added.
For his part, FC Sion midfielder Oussama Darragi expects the match against Algeria to be decided to minor details. He acknowledged that Algeria had distinguished players but said that his team would do their best to qualify.
"I hope to win against Algeria, and to qualify together with our Algerian brothers to the second round," Darragi said.
Although the number of Tunisian fans at Johannesburg airport was small, they created an atmosphere of vitality and joy to support their team.
Nacer Ibrahim is a Tunisian doctor residing in South Africa, where he has been living for six years with his wife and three children. He travelled to Johannesburg from a suburb to show support for his team, who arrived last Thursday carrying Tunisian flags and their fans' hopes.
"I took advantage of the arrival of the Tunisian team to receive and support them in this event," he told Magharebia amid the sound of drum-beating and songs in praise of Tunisia.
Ibrahim said that he also rooted for Algerians and Moroccans, hoping that the January 22nd Algeria-Tunisia clash would live up to the reputations of the two brotherly nations.