WORLD CUP BEGINS, SENATORS IN FLIGHT HITCH
After a delay of about two hours caused by a faulty landing gear of their chartered plane, 62 senators on Wednesday night left the country for South Africa where the World Cup fiesta opens today.
The Senators left through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport aboard Boeing 757-200 series plane, said to be charterd from France.
Our correspondent gathered that the Senators' plane developed the fault shortly after take-off, forcing the pilot to return to land for checks.
The aircraft was, however, said to be certified okay, barely two hours after, to convey the Senators to South Africa.
Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Dr. Harold Demuren, who confirmed the incident, said he was called late in the night and that he promptly deployed engineers to examine the aircraft.
Meanwhile, agency reports that al-Bashir had rejected invitation to attend the world cup event. There were speculations that the Sudanese leader rejected the invitation for fear of being arrested on an International Criminal Court warrant, to answer to war crimes charges.
The 2010 World Cup, the first to be hosted on African soil, begins today at the 94,700-capacity in Soweto with hosts South Africa playing Mexico.
The kick-off match will be proceeded by an opening ceremony that will see rich African tradition on display. A Nigerian musician and Grammy Award nominee, Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, is among the top-rated musicians expected to perform at the ceremony that will be watched live by over one billion people across the globe.
France and Uruguay are to play the second match of the day at Cape Town Stadium in the other Group A fixture. But the match that has caused much anxiety worldwide is that between Nigeria and Argentina. It will come up on Saturday at the 70,000-capacity Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg. It is the first game in the Group B matches that will be played during the month-long soccer fiesta.
Nigeria and Argentina struggled through their qualifying series with the Eagles clinching their ticket on the last day of the qualifiers. Argentina with an array of stars, including World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi, are still suspect with football legend Diego Maradona as coach.
The Nigerians are also expected to be buoyed by the presence of President Goodluck Jonathan, who was invited along with some other world leaders, by South African President Jacob Zuma, for the opening ceremony.
However, opinions back home have changed about the Eagles under new coach, Lars Lagerback, who many feel has changed the team, despite hired a few weeks to the tournament.
Even though the Eagles have lost Chelsea midfielder, Mikel Obi, and energetic Everton forward, Victor Anichebe, to injury, the Argentines are no better with Maradona surprisingly omitting the likes of Javier Zanetti, Estebian Cambiasso and Fernando Gago from his squad.
Messi and Real Mandrid's Gonzalottiguain are expected to lead the Argentine attack but Lagerback will banking on his one win two draws in his first games for Nigeria to see him through on Saturday.
This year's mundial is the first to be hosted by an African country since its inauguration 80 years ago in Uruguay. It is also the third so far in the 21st century. Thirty-two countries representing all the continents and sub-continents are participating in the global event.
The sound of the Vuvuzela, the ear-splitting and trumpet made from recycled products, will be heard everywhere in the rainbow nation, especially in the five cities —Soweto, Johanessburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban— that are hosting the fiesta.
The city centre of Johannesburg, the country's economic hub, was in festive mood on Wednesday and Thursday as offices located in the area closed shops for thousands of fans, who trooped out to give a morale boosting battle cry and support to their national team, Bafana Bafana.
Top officials of the world soccer body, FIFA, are already on ground, holding a series of meetings topped by the congress, the supreme organ of the body, at which far-reaching decisions are usually taken.
Top world renowned musical artistes performed in Soweto on Thursday, Johannesburg to kick off the fiesta at the stadium early.
Transportation arrangements are also being fine-tuned as fans will be conveyed by different means of transport because no private cars will be allowed in the precincts of the stadium.
FIFA, organisers of the tournament, said 98 per cent of the over three million available tickets had already been sold. Only 30,000 of the 135,000 available tickets now remain on sale to the public.