NELSON MANDELA attended the opening of last night’s World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands, thrilling fans and capping South Africa’s pride in staging a successful tournament.
Mandela, 91, who is in frail health, waved as he briefly toured the pitch in a golf cart surrounded by bodyguards. He was given an ecstatic welcome by the crowd chanting his clan name Madiba and blowing vuvuzela trumpets.
FIFA had said it hoped Mandela would attend but the former South Africa president, who celebrates his birthday on July 18, rarely appears in public.
Mandela missed the opening match of the tournament a month ago after his great-granddaughter died in a car accident.
South Africa’s military health service said Mandela’s visit was made possible after it had close consultations with his family and FIFA, world soccer’s governing body.
“At no stage was the health of Dr Mandela compromised and… members of the SA Military Health Service (were) on hand to ensure the wellbeing of Dr Mandela,” it said in a statement. The presence of Mandela, adds to South African joy at successfully hosting the first World Cup on the continent.
National team Bafana Bafana bowed out of the tournament at the first round stage but President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday the relatively smooth hosting of the finals made its people the champions.
Sceptics had doubted Africa’s economic powerhouse could organise the World Cup, including completing construction of stadiums on time.
While some tourists have been robbed, the world’s biggest sporting event has taken place largely peacefully, confounding fears of attacks on foreigners in a country with one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime outside a war zone.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved