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April 30, 2017

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Five memorable World Cup opening ceremonies

SAO PAULO -- Five memorable moments at World Cup opening ceremonies ahead of the 2014 edition in Sao Paulo on Thursday:

2010 — South Africa

Africa's first ever World Cup — which Sepp Blatter had promised he would deliver when he was first elected in 1998 — enjoyed a sumptuous musical display in Johannesburg with several top national stars performing. However, the biggest star of all was unable to be there as former president Nelson Mandela had to pull out when his great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash earlier that day. He did make it to the final but only briefly as a frail figure he was driven round the stadium prior to the Spain and the Netherlands clash.

2006 — Germany

It all started with German supermodel Claudia Schiffer strolling onto the pitch with Brazilian legend, three-time World Cup winner Pele. However, they looked on bemused as two figures dressed as fairytale characters Hansel and Gretel were assailed on the Munich pitch by polka dancers and their hornblower partners who had been part of the first half of the ceremony but clearly did not wish to leave the scene.

2002 — South Korea/Japan

South Korea and bitter historical rivals Japan co-hosted the finals with the Koreans laying on the opening ceremony and the Japanese given the final. However, not even being made joint-hosts meant all was peace and harmony between the two countries and Japanese Emperor Akihito was not present at the opening ceremony while FIFA chief Sepp Blatter was roundly booed as he tried to make his first speech as president at a World Cup finals having been elected to succeed Brazilian strongman Joao Havelange.

1994 — United States

Diana Ross may be a soul singing legend but her skills with a soccer proved to be a talking point at the opening ceremony in Soldier Field Stadium, home to the NFL's Chicago Bears. Asked simply to kick the soccer into an open goal she fluffed her lines completely as she sent it wide of the posts. The ceremony was capped with chat show host Oprah Winfrey falling off the stage.

1978 — Argentina

Opening ceremony was overshadowed by all-round surprise that all 24 teams turned up as there was some reluctance on the part of several players to travel to a country which had been a military dictatorship since 1976. Even more sinister was that the venue the River Plate Stadium was just a mile from the Naval Mechanics School (ESMA), a notorious prison camp where opponents of the junta were allegedly tortured.

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