The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations kicked off at a damp Soccer City stadium Saturday with a Group A match between hosts South Africa and debutants Cape Verde Islands.
A colourful ceremony of dance and music and the official opening by President Jacob Zuma preceded the first of 32 matches over 22 days in five venues around the country.
Torrential pre-match rain did not dampen the spirits of about 60,000 spectators, with many blowing vuvuzelas (plastic horns) and creating a din reminiscent of the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa.
The crowd swelled to 80,000 by the start of the second half as supporters who ignored pleas to come early and were delayed by traffic jams and long queues finally took their seats in the biggest sports stadium on the continent.
A star-stacked Ivory Coast squad captained by striker Didier Drogba are expected to win the February 10 final, and shed a ‘chokers’ tag earned by failing to justify favouritism in the previous four Africa Cup tournaments.
The only Ivorian success in the competition came 21 years ago against Ghana with, ironically, a team of far fewer stars than that available to French coach Sabri Lamouchi this year.
Ghana, four times champions but without a title since 1982, are widely considered the greatest threat to Ivory Coast, although the absence of injured midfielder Andre Ayew is a blow.
Dogged fighters Zambia are back to defend a title won against the odds in Gabon last year when they held Ivory Coast goalless for 120 minutes and won a marathon penalty shootout.
Other countries with a chance of lifting a trophy that symbolises national team supremacy on the continent include South Africa, Morocco, Mali, Nigeria, Algeria and Tunisia.
Traditionally staged in even-number years, the Africa Cup has been moved to uneven-number years to avoid every second tournament being staged the same year as a World Cup.
Libya were chosen to host the 2013 Cup of Nations, but the uprising which ended four decades of dictatorship by Moamer Kadhafi led to a swap with original 2017 hosts South Africa.