World Cup party starts early in Cape Town

CAPE TOWN - Thousands of fans partied into the night on the streets of Cape Town on Friday to celebrate the World Cup draw despite hosts South Africa being thrown into one of the tournament's tricky groups.

South Africa, given a seeded rating as hosts despite lacklustre recent performances, were drawn to face Mexico in the opening match on June 11 next year and must also play two former World Cup winners, Uruguay and France, in Group A.

Many South Africans resigned themselves to an early exit but that did not seem to dampen the atmosphere at Cape Town's main party venue, the city's trendy Long Street.

Local and foreign fans, many with flags of their favourite teams painted on their faces, thronged the bars and restaurants.

"South Africans are positive. We believe," said Vuyani Kwinana, who carried a large national flag.

"Africa is going to conquer and take this World Cup. We will beat Mexico in the first match," Kwinana added.

Fans, some of whom had been partying since early afternoon, sat exhausted along the pavements as the blare of vuvuzelas - plastic trumpets blown incessantly at South African matches - pierced the night air. FINAL COUNTDOWN

A huge television screen was set up to show the draw, presented by South African Oscar winner Charlize Theron, to the excited crowds.

The ceremony ended the suspense over who the 32 qualifying teams would play and where and was watched on television by an estimated 250 million people in 200 countries.

It began the final countdown to next year's World Cup, the first to be held in Africa.

"This is the first time I've been to South Africa and I'm finding it very cool," said Thomas Beltlwieser, a 31-year-old from Munich.

"We are already having a great time and meeting people from around the world. The locals are friendly and we feel safe but we have to be safety conscious."

South Africa is one of the world's most dangerous places outside a war zone and the government has taken extraordinary measures to ensure visitors are safe during the draw and next year's month-long event starting on June 11.

"This draw and the World Cup means a lot for Africa, the world's poorest continent," said Zimbabwean artist Godfrey Dambuleni who was walking around with his own World Cup trophy made of tin and held together with wire.