Small groups waving the national flag and blowing vuvuzela trumpets strolled into the stadium on a chilly morning, after going through a security check point and ticket inspection.
“This moment has finally arrived. South Africa is witnessing a historic moment, I am looking forward to the game in the afternoon,” said Tshepo Sehole who travelled overnight from the eastern province of Mpumalanga.
A police helicopter hovered above the 94,700-seat stadium, covered in clay-coloured panels to resemble an African calabash pot.
National police chief Bheki Cele said 34,000 police were deployed around the stadium, aided by 10,000 reservists patrolling all public areas.
Opening day was clouded by the death of Nelson Mandela’s 13-year-old great granddaughter in a car crash after Thursday night’s kick-off concert in what police say was a drunk driving accident in downtown Johannesburg.
The 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) kick off will be preceded by a lavish opening ceremony, featuring African dancers and musical performances led by pop singer R Kelly.
“I never thought this day will come. The games have started, nothing can stop us now. Bafana Bafana must win,” said Martha Shange from Boksburg, a Johannesburg suburb.
“I came in early so that I can say I saw everything about this historic day. I am hoping for a beautiful day,” she said.
Some 300,000 foreign fans are expected in South Africa for the tournament. Organisers said VIPs at Friday’s opener would include US Vice President Joe Biden, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.