Mandela attends World Cup final

Former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel wave to fans during the...

Former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel wave to fans during the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup on July 11, 2010. (REUTERS/Michael Kooren)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:58 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG -- It was an early birthday present for Nelson Mandela.

And a heartwarming gift for this entire country.

At approximately 7:17 p.m. Johannesburg time Sunday night, 85,000 people rose to their feet and cheered as national hero Nelson Mandela, who turns 92 next week, was introduced to the capacity throng here at Soccer City.

It was The Roar Heard ‘Round South Africa. And much of the world, too.

Waving to the crowd, Mandela, accompanied by wife Graca Machel, completed a lap of the pitch while perched on the back of a golf cart. All the while, he was greeted by chants of “Man-de-la, Man-de-la!”

There had been speculation that Mandela would not attend the final because of ailing health. In recent days, his grandson had accused FIFA of putting “extreme pressure” on the man considered to be a pilgrim of South African human rights.

But such talk was thankfully put to bed when Mandela, grinning from ear to ear, entered the stadium.

FIFA had hoped all along that Mandela would be on hand to award the World Cup trophy to the winner of The Netherlands-Spain title game at Soccer City.

In the end, Mandela would not be part of that ceremony. Instead it was FIFA president Sepp Blatter and South African president Jacob Zuma who presented the trophy to Spanish captain Iker Casillas after Spain’s 1-0 victory.

No matter. The fact that Mandela had been here in the first place was enough to make it a special night.

Mandela had planned to be at the opening ceremonies at Soccer City before the South Africa-Mexico tournament curtain raiser on June 11. But those plans were scuttled when Mandela’s great granddaughter was killed the night before in an automobile accident.

At least, on this occasion, Nelson Mandela finally had the chance to celebrate with the rest of his country.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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