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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK

World Cup kicks off in style

The opening ceremony was a glittering occasion

Deafening cheers greeted the opening of the first game of the Rugby World Cup as Wales and Argentina began their battle at Cardiff's new Millennium Stadium.

The BBC's Guy de Launey: "For the players, what matters is what happens on the pitch"
The ears of the crowd and players were still ringing from a rousing opening ceremony in which singer Shirley Bassey joined 1,000 Welsh voices from a combination of massed choirs.

Supported by Bryn Terfel, Michael Ball and Max Boyce, they sang the Rugby World Cup anthem World in Union.

First on in front of the 72,000 capacity crowd were local favourites Catatonia, who performed their hit song International Velvet.

[ image: Shirley Bassey raised the roof at the Millennium Stadium]
Shirley Bassey raised the roof at the Millennium Stadium
The band's performance was a prelude to The Birth of the Red Dragon, a pageant performed by dozens of local schoolchildren, supported by 20 Royal Mairnes who abseiled from the stadium's east and west stands.

The commandos hoisted the wings of a giant, skeletal, red dragon - the icon of Welsh rugby - in a ceremony rich in sybolism and drama.

The tournament itself was a chance for the Welsh players to show whether they too had been reborn as a major force in world rugby.

As it turned out they edged to a narrow, untidy 23-18 victory over fiercely competitive Argentina in the opening match.

Royal encouragement

The Prince of Wales, who earlier told supporters he was confident of a Welsh victory, officially declared the tournament open on his first visit to the new stadium.

[ image: The Prince of Wales speaks to the 72,000 crowd]
The Prince of Wales speaks to the 72,000 crowd
Prince Charles read out a message from the Queen in which she said: "I send my warm good wishes to all those participating in the Rugby World Cup Tournament.

"I shall follow the progress of the teams as they play in a spirit of friendly competition.

"I look forward to joining you in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, for the World Cup final on Saturday 6 November."

Then Prince Charles said: "Ladies and gentlemen, I should also like to add my own good wishes to all those countries taking part.

"I am delighted to declare the 1999 Rugby World Cup tournament open."

Prince Charles, wearing a Welsh Rugby Union tie, earlier stopped en route to the stadium and was greeted by a crowd of fans outside the city's new five star Hilton Cardiff Hotel, which he officially opened.

[ image: Cerys Matthews: Welsh band Catatonia performed in Cardiff]
Cerys Matthews: Welsh band Catatonia performed in Cardiff
As ever, Shenkin the Royal Welch Fusiliers' regimental goat was also on display for the opening ceremony ahead of opening match.

The organisers promised "dazzling special effects and pyrotechnics" to accompany Shirley Bassey and Bryn Terfel as they sang the tournament theme song, the World in Union - and they did not disappoint.

Male and female players from all levels of rugby in Wales also took part, as did the RAF's Red Arrows in the skies above.

Vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo represented cup-holders South Africa.

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Ceremony organisers Tony Ball Associates

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