South Africa opens showpiece World Cup stadium

By Mark Gleeson

South African President Jacob Zuma cut a ribbon on the pitch and declared the venue open before the kickoff of the South African FA Cup final.

A flypast of five fighter jets marked a spectacular start, although the noise of the aircraft dipping low over the venue was almost drowned out by the cacophony of vuvuzelas, the plastic trumpets blown incessantly by the crowd.

The stadium was half-empty for the ceremony, an hour before kick-off, as thousands of fans battled traffic congestion which led to the final being delayed by 30 minutes.

Some 80,000 tickets were sold for the final, one of two matches scheduled at the venue before the opening game of the World Cup between hosts South Africa and Mexico on June 11.

The stadium will have another dress rehearsal Thursday when South Africa meet Colombia in a World Cup warm-up match.

Soccer City was originally opened in 1989 as the home of South African football and underwent an almost complete overhaul for the World Cup, with three years of construction turning the stadium into a 94,700-seater venue built in the form of an African calabash, or cooking pot.

The renovation cost 3.3 billion rand ($416.9 million), well over the original budget of 2.2 billion.

The new arena has three seating tiers, 230 private boxes, 184 suites, 32 turnstile entrances and parking for approximately 19,000 cars. It will also host the final of the World Cup on July 11.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)