South Africa take open-top bus tour... before first game

South Africa got its celebration in early yesterday as the national team paraded through Johannesburg in an open-top bus before a ball had been kicked at the continent's first World Cup.

As many as 150,000 fans lined the streets of the suburb of Sandton to give a noisy foretaste of what's to come when the action starts in earnest tomorrow. Supporters decked out in the country's green and gold danced and sang, with some chanting "Ke Nako!" ("It's time!")

Local television and radio stations spent days imploring fans of Bafana Bafana to come out and "show their support" for a team which was until recently seen as one of the weakest at the tournament.

The open-top tour – normally reserved for the champions' victory parade –was originally conceived as a morale-building exercise for a squad that many thought would enter the record books as the first hosts to fail to make it to the knockout round.

But a 12-match unbeaten streak has got the host nation dreaming, with as many as 13 per cent of South Africans believing they will go all the way and win it on 11 July, according to a poll this week.

At midday yesterday, that optimism was given its own deafening voice. The distinctive blare of the vuvuzela, the metre-long plastic horn that is the trademark of South African soccer, could be heard all over the city. For days, hundreds of cars have been flying flags and yesterday, they were blasting their horns as the nation's commercial capital erupted in noise.

"I feel like an African when I blow the vuvuzela," said Hendrik Maharala, a 26-year-old construction worker from Johannesburg who participated in the celebrations.

Pride of place on an afternoon of patriotism was given to the Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, the coach whose recent return to the Bafana bench has coincided with an upsurge in form for a team who as recently as two months ago couldn't buy a goal.

The hosts' first task will be to take on in-form Mexico at the vast Soccer City arena in Soweto tomorrow. The coach has asked the crowd to provide a wall of noise from the vuvuzela nation to act as a "12th man".

Not to be outdone, Mexico fans, thousands of whom are expected to be at the opener, gathered in Sandton earlier this week to give an impromptu mariachi performance and do some voluble chanting of their own.