MUNICH: Bavarian goatherds marching to the crack of long whips, traditional cowbell ringers and 170 former champions from around the world, opened the World Cup in Germany on Friday, the world's biggest sporting tournament.

Thousands of fans inside the spectacular Allianz Arena and hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide turned their eyes to Munich for the start of the month-long tournament and the opening game between host Germany and Costa Rica.

Triple world champion Pele from Brazil, accompanied by German supermodel Claudia Schiffer, carried the trophy into the stadium before a sold-out crowd of 60,000 including the German President, Horst Koehler, and Costa Rican counterpart Oscar Arias.

For the first time in the history of the event, every living member of past World Cup-winning teams was present, walking on to the pitch amid roaring applause.

Welcome to Germany

``Finally it can start,'' Mr. Koehler said in his address. ``Welcome to Germany. May we see lots of goals and fair play,'' he said before declaring the tournament open.

Munich's newly built stadium, completed last year at a cost of $430 million, was mostly covered in black, red and gold flags, the colours of the host nation's flag as a local boys' choir kicked off celebrations some 90 minutes before the start of the match.

``This is the most beautiful game in the world and I am here at the very start of it,'' said German fan Klaus Breitmann from Cologne, draped in a German flag and wearing a black-red-gold wig. ``This is the biggest party in the world and I am invited.''

Costa Rican fans

About 7,000 noisy Costa Rican fans in the stands added even more spice to the celebrations.

``We are outnumbered but we have a bigger heart,'' said Guillermo Salas, who paid $5,000 for an 18-day, three-match trip. Thousands more had camped outside the stadium in the hope of getting their hands on any tickets.

The Germans had initially planned to stage a large opening ceremony in Berlin on the day before the first game but concerns it could damage the pitch and low ticket sales forced them to scrap it and leave Munich to host a scaled-down opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, German officials welcomed partying crowds but warned they would not ``joke around'' with security.

``Everyone can come, shout until they lose their voices, have a great time and feel at home with friends,'' said Rainer Riedl, interior ministry spokesman. Agencies

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper