Africa's first football FIFA World Cup™ kicked off in Johannesburg on Friday as a grief-stricken Nelson Mandela inspired the hosts to a 1-1 draw with Mexico in front of a raucous and emotional home crowd.

The match followed emotional scenes at the opening ceremony with fans weeping during a fly-pass over the stadium before 1,500 performers piled on to the pitch for a dance routine which saw them create a map of the continent.

After brief turns from some of the biggest names in African music, it was left to South African President Jacob Zuma to declare the tournament open and the Uzbek referee Rashan Irmatov to blow the starting whistle. "The time for Africa has come. It has arrived," Zuma told the supporters.

The crowds had been hoping that Mandela, South Africa's first black president, would be present to cheer on the Bafana Bafana national team. But he was instead nursing his grief after the death of his 13-year-old great granddaughter Zenani Mandela.

In a statement, Mandela's foundation said that he felt it inappropriate to attend a football match at a time of family grief but added that "Madiba will be there with you in spirit today". The youngster was killed on the way back from an eve-of-tournament concert, in a car crash which police say was caused by a drunk driver.

Madiba will be there with you in spirit today.

Nelson Mandela's foundation

The 91-year-old Mandela, still the nation's moral beacon more than a decade after he stood down, did appear on a giant screen with his words interspersed in a song that implored fans to "overcome all adversity".

Blasts from ear-splitting vuvuzela horns drowned out the chants of the Mexican fans as the match kicked off. Tens of thousands of supporters unable to grab tickets watched in special fan parks where the first goal was greeted with scenes of euphoria. The equaliser was met with silence.

"I was impressed by the level of performance, but still wanted a win," said Peter Paulse from Johannesburg as he trooped away from the ground.

"It was so beautiful to be here. We took a lot of pictures -- the kind of pictures that you need to frame and say, 'I was there,'" said Mina Shembe, a 31-year-old woman from Johannesburg.

The hosts hope that a successful tournament with world renowned names such as Argentina's Lionel Messi, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and England's Wayne Rooney will overturn negative perceptions of Africa. "The World Cup must make the world see the beautiful landscape, humanity, progress and vibrant spirit that is in this continent," Zuma told visiting heads of state. They will see that this continent is not about wars and conflict. It is a continent of peoples who love peace, harmony and sustainable development."