The 2010 World Cup in South Africa got under way with a spectacular and vibrant opening ceremony at the 94,000-capacity Soccer City in Johannesburg.
The ceremony was followed by the first game of the tournament between the hosts and Mexico, which ended 1-1.
Africa is staging the World Cup for the first time, with 32 nations competing in 64 games until the final on 11 July.
Nelson Mandela was due to attend the opening ceremony but withdrew following the death of his great-granddaughter.
Zenani Mandela, 13, died in a car crash when travelling home from the pre-World Cup concert in Johannesburg on Thursday.
She was one of the 91-year-old anti-apartheid icon's nine great-grandchildren.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation released a statement saying it would be "inappropriate" for Mandela, a former South African president, to be at the opening ceremony.
"We are sure that South Africans and people all over the world will stand in solidarity with Mr Mandela and his family in the aftermath of this tragedy," added the statement.
"We continue to believe that the World Cup is a momentous and historic occasion for South Africa and the continent and we are certain it will be a huge success."
The 40-minute ceremony began with a five-plane military flypast over the stadium, which resembles a huge African cooking pot.
A group of drummers and dancers performed a 'Welcome to Africa' song that included an introduction to all 10 tournament's venues.
The next sequence saw a gigantic beetle show off its football skills with the Jabulani - the official football of the finals - before large pieces of cloth were used to show a map of the continent.
Musicians and artists from the other African finalists - Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria - also had their chance to perform in a joint sequence.
Multiple Grammy Award winner R Kelly then sang the ceremony's showpiece song, 'Sign of a Victory' with South Africa's Soweto Spiritual Singers.
But one of the loudest cheers was reserved for Mandela, whose image appeared on screens to a message of hope from him in song.
Not everyone made it to their seats by the start, with traffic problems delaying some fans.
But Archbishop Desmond Tutu and president Jacob Zuma were in attendance, along with the likes of United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, Prince Albert of Monaco and United States vice-president Joe Biden.
The global TV audience for the tournament will be made up of viewers in more than 215 countries and will run into hundreds of millions.
The festivities began in earnest on Thursday, with Shakira among the artists at a vast pre-tournament concert in Soweto.
The Colombian pop star performed the official World Cup song Waka Waka and was joined by a cast of international stars, including the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys, along with African stars Amadou & Mariam and Hugh Masekela.
Since it was chosen as the first African host of the World Cup in 2004, South Africa has spent about 40bn rand (£3.55bn) on stadiums, transport infrastructure and upgrading airports.
The tournament, which is made up of 32 nations, could add as much as 0.5% to the country's GDP in 2010 and will bring in an estimated 370,000 foreign visitors.
There are 64 games in total, with the final taking place at Soccer City on Sunday, 11 July.
There have been concerns about ticketing policy and security in the run-up to the tournament.
Fifa has come under fire for the way tickets have been distributed, with critics claiming its preferred method of making tickets available online excluded many locals who did not have an internet connection.
However, football's world governing body has made a number of tickets exclusively available to South Africans and announced on Wednesday that 97% of the 3.1m tickets had been sold, allaying fears of empty stadiums.
As for security, there have been concerns about the safety of fans, media and players travelling to South Africa.
Sixteen people - including two police officers - were injured at a stampede ahead of a World Cup warm-up match on Sunday between Nigeria and North Korea outside Makhulong Stadium in the township of Tembisa near Johannesburg.
And journalists from China, Spain and Portugal were targeted in two separate armed robberies in and around Johannesburg on Monday and Wednesday.
However, Fifa president Sepp Blatter insists the World Cup will be a success.
"Everywhere, one can feel, I hope, that this World Cup is very special, the first on African soil," he said. "We find ourselves in a position of indescribable anticipation.
"More importantly, this competition will prove that South Africa, and the African continent in general, is capable of organising an event of this magnitude."
Some of the world's best players will be on display in South Africa, among them Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
But some big names will be missing because of injury, such as England duo Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham, Germany skipper Michael Ballack and Ghana midfielder Michael Essien.
Didier Drogba - an icon in African sport - fractured his elbow in a recent friendly against Japan, but is hopeful of playing a part in the Ivory Coast's campaign.
England are among the favourites in South Africa and get their Group C campaign under way against the United States in Rustenburg on Saturday.
Defending champions Italy start on Monday with a match against Paraguay, Brazil face North Korea in their first game on Tuesday and Euro 2008 winners Spain start their bid for a first World Cup win by taking on Switzerland on Wednesday.
South Africa began their campaign with a 1-1 draw with Group A rivals Mexico.
Managed by Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, the Bafana Bafana took the lead on 55 minutes when Siphiwe Tshabalala found the net with a wonderful left-foot shot.
The Mexicans levelled through Rafael Marquez in the 79th minute, but South Africa hit the post through Katlego Mphela in the 90th minute.