JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - If you want to touch euphoria, it existed at approximately 5:15 p.m. local time here.
In the hours prior to that moment, the elation lay dormant, brewing among the 88,640 fans happily stuffed inside Soccer City; it was released, quite extraordinarily, off the left foot of South African striker Siphiwe Tshabalala.
On a breakaway, Tshabalala blasted the Jabulani - Adidas' aerodynamically designed soccer ball - past the flailing arms of Mexico's goalkeeper Oscar Perez and into the upper right corner of the goal.
It was the first goal of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the host nation's team had scored it in the 55th minute. For 25 glorious minutes afterward, South Africa seemed destined for a storybook beginning: victory over Mexico.
It wasn't to be.
In the 79th minute, Mexico, which produced many good chances, finally netted its equalizer off the boot of Rafael Marquez.
The first match of the 2010 World Cup ended in a tie, 1-1.
The match was the grand finale of a day of celebration that was tempered only by the news of tragedy within the family of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani died in a car accident on Thursday night. Expected to attend Friday's opening ceremonies and opening match, Mandela, a catalyst in bringing these games to his country, mourned with his family in private.
For a dizzying chunk of the second half, with most of the historic crowd on its feet and blowing vuvuzelas, it appeared as if South Africa would celebrate into the night.
"We could easily have won the game," said South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. "All in all, at the end a draw is a fair result. We are still in the competition; this group is very tough."
Tshabalala was a flash of speed all afternoon. Sporting neon orange cleats and flowing dreadlocks, Tshabalala appeared to sense his goal's importance. After seeing the ball swirl into the netting, he sprinted to the sidelines where he stopped, waited for his teammates, and then engaged his thousands of countrymen in a choreographed celebratory dance.
"It was a great goal, very special for me," Tshabalala said. "It was something of a present, because I was celebrating my 50th appearance [for the national team]."
Mexico dominated the game's first half; South Africa seemed lucky to enter halftime in a scoreless draw.
Mexico's only goal made you wonder why there weren't more. On a cross from the left, Marquez was one of three black jerseys in the box, and each of the Mexico players could have easily scored.
Marquez brought the ball down, no defenders in sight, and punched it past South Africa's keeper, Itumeleng Khune.
In the 90th minute, South Africa was delivered one last opportunity. On a soaring goalkeeper kick that traveled three quarters of the field, Katlego Mphela caught the ball on the run and tried to push it past an oncoming Perez. Mphela's chance hit the post and rolled out of bounds.
For the South Africans, a tie would have to do.