South Africa unites for World Cup as party begins

SOWETO, South Africa: South Africa began the World Cup party Thursday with revellers flocking to a star-studded concert and fan festivals on the eve of Africa''s first staging of the biggest show on earth.

"This is the real kick-off," FIFA president Sepp Blatter told tens of thousands packed into Soweto''s historic Orlando stadium to watch artists including Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas.

"Football is not only a game. Football is connecting people."

South African President Jacob Zuma told the crowds that Africa was showing that it was capable of handling events of any size.

"Africa is hosting this tournament. South Africa is the stage," said Zuma, 65. "South Africa is rocking. South Africa is cool."

But in Cape Town, a police officer suffered a broken leg and two women broke their ankles during in a crush at the entrance to a World Cup party attended by thousands.

"Excess people wanted to get in and started pushing," said police spokesman Frederick van Wyk. "People at the back kept moving forward and a crush ensued."

The Soweto concert began with a performance from veteran South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela in a township synonomous with the fight against whites-only rule and the country''s first black president Nelson Mandela.

And at the other end of the country, more than 15,000 people crammed into a fan park to watch local bands and a light show at the same spot from Mandela addressed his nation 20 years ago immediately after walking free from prison.