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Team pride swells across South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - The colors of Bafana Bafana, the affectionate nickname bestowed upon South Africa's national team, are lime green and lemon yellow.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - The colors of Bafana Bafana, the affectionate nickname bestowed upon South Africa's national team, are lime green and lemon yellow.

And the colors are everywhere.

On billboards, attached to rearview mirrors, worn in jersey form by nearly everyone working in the service industry, worn by those simply excited for this event, and worn by "The Boys" themselves, who on Friday will kick off the 2010 FIFA World Cup by playing Mexico inside artistic Soccer City, the tournament's marquee venue that holds 88,460 and is located a few winding kilometers from downtown Johannesburg. The stadium is inspired by the African pottery known as "calabash."

The World Cup, the first on African soil, will run from June 11 to July 11.

The city has shut down normal life and jump-started its long-anticipated World Cup.

On Wednesday, schoolchildren were released on a month long World Cup holiday and jubilantly lined the streets of Sandton, a suburb north of Johannesburg, for a "Bafana, Bafana" parade.

Approximately 20,000 people, waving the country's flag and blowing vuvuzelas, watched the team and its Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Perreira pass on an open-topped bus.

"You have to like this kind of support," Perreira said. "I was there in that car and we could feel the joy, the happiness of the people. It was something very spontaneous. They were there because they believed. They have the same ray of hope we did."

Those in attendance called it the most moving scene of their lives; one member of the South African team cried openly.

"We have to understand the feelings of the people," said South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena.

At Soccer City, the surrounding vendors and advertising displays - like Castrol's Cristiano Ronaldo dribbling challenge - were preparing for Friday's crush: The gates open at 10 a.m. and officials have warned spectators to arrive early.

The stadium itself had a sense of final renovation, covered with the dustiness of a just-finished construction project.

On Thursday, South Africa and Mexico held their final training sessions at the stadium.

"The country's sport is football," said Perreira. "This preparation and the World Cup coming here woke this up. And we hope the World Cup will leave a legacy."

Approximately 30,000 fans sold out Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Thursday night for the FIFA World Cup Kick-Off Celebration Concert featuring American artists Alicia Keys and John Legend and Colombian artist Shakira.

"Six years ago it would have been difficult to imagine an event of this magnitude taking place here, so it's a great honor for us to be part of it," Zolani Mahola, the lead vocalist of South African band Freshlyground, told FIFA.

"Given the history of this country, and over and above our own performance or the importance of the event itself, there's a wider and even more significant agenda which involves the whole of Africa," Mpumi Mcata, the lead guitarist with Johannesburg rock outfit BLK JKS, also told FIFA.

The traffic is thickening, the flags are flying, the energy is everywhere, and Friday afternoon it begins on the field.

"Football has united South Africa," Perreira concluded.