Blatter hopes Mandela attends World Cup

Blatter hopes Mandela attends World Cup

Published Jun. 4, 2010 1:01 p.m. ET

Nelson Mandela is determined he will attend the opening game of the World Cup in Johannesburg in a week's time because it would realize his dream, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Friday after meeting the former president.

Speculation is intense whether the 91-year-old Mandela, South Africa's most famous citizen, will be well enough to attend any World Cup games. He is not suffering from a specific illness, but is reported to be very frail.

Blatter revealed he had a brief meeting with Mandela on Thursday, and Mandela said he wanted to be at next week's opening game.

``All I can say is that he (Mandela) is convinced that he shall be at the opening,'' Blatter said. ``He wants to be there because he wants to live up to his dream.


``We just cross fingers that his dream will be realized ... and he will honor the opening and the kickoff to this World Cup.''

On Thursday, African National Congress spokesman Jackson Mthembu said Mandela will make a rare public appearance at next week's tournament opener between the host nation and Mexico, and also at the July 11 final.

``Madiba will grace both the opening and the closing of the World Cup,'' Mthembu said, using the traditional clan name by which Mandela is affectionately known in South Africa. ``We are very honored to have an icon of Mandela's caliber to grace this important event. We are very happy that Madiba will come. The Madiba magic will add to the excitement.''

A spokesman at Mandela's foundation would not say if Mandela would attend the Mexico-South Africa match, saying they do not disclose his schedule ahead of time for security reasons.

Blatter handed over the World Cup trophy on Friday to South Africa's vice president Kgalema Motlanthe, who said the glittering prize will remain in Africa.

Motlanthe, acting in place of President Jacob Zuma, who is on a state visit to India, took charge of the World Cup on the steps of the Union Buildings in the capital city.

At the Union Buildings around 50 members of the presidential staff, wearing colorful scarves and hats, watched the trophy hand-over and blew on their vuvuzela trumpets.

Motlanthe, who had a yellow South African soccer shirt on, said Africa's first World Cup marked a turning point in the history of the competition. He backed the country's national team to win the tournament and keep the trophy in Africa.

``It is not only the first time that Africa hosts it but it is also the first time the trophy actually remains on the continent of Africa,'' he said as the crowd cheered.

The World Cup later appeared in Soweto, the famous sprawling township on the southern outskirts of Johannesburg, where it was put on display at a community center hall. Fans, mostly groups of noisy schoolchildren, were allowed one minute next to the glistening gold trophy to take photos before being hurried along.

Nearby, Johannesburg city officials unveiled a giant poster of Mandela smiling and holding the World Cup trophy. The image, captured in Zurich in 2004 when South Africa won its bid to host the tournament, will hang from the city's Mandela Bridge throughout the tournament.


PROFESSOR DUNGA: Brazil coach Dunga gave a speech to hundreds of students at the Johannesburg high school where the team is practicing for the World Cup.

Dunga spoke to students and employees at the Randburg High School on Friday, answering questions and receiving a tribute.

A Brazilian soccer confederation spokesman said the students chanted the coach's name when he entered the school.

Dunga said the students ``wanted to show how much they admired the Brazilian national team.''

Most of Brazil's training sessions have been closed to the public, but some students at the school have been able to sneak in to take a look at the Brazilian players.

Dunga captained Brazil to the 1994 World Cup title.


REMEMBER CABANAS: Paraguay President Fernando Lugo is using absent striker Salvador Cabanas, who survived a gunshot wound to the head 41/2 months ago, as a source of inspiration for the country's team in the World Cup.

Lugo sent a letter to team members, which was published Friday, asking them to remember Cabanas if they encounter difficult moments at the World Cup. Cabanas, who was to be the team's starting striker, was shot in the head in late January in a Mexico City bar. He played for Mexico's Club America.

Paraguay is playing in its fourth straight World Cup and opens on June 14 in Cape Town against defending champion Italy. Slovakia and New Zealand also play in Group F.


PORTO COACH: FC Porto's new coach, Andre Villas Boas, a former assistant to Jose Mourinho, has started work at the club's Stadium of the Dragon.

Villas Boas took charge Friday after signing a two-year contract.

The 32-year-old is regarded as one of Portugal's most promising young coaches. He was an assistant to Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan before becoming coach of Portuguese first division club Academica last October.

Academica, a club with meager financial resources, finished 11th in the 16-team league.

Coach Jesualdo Ferreira left Porto by mutual consent last month. He guided Porto to three consecutive league titles after taking charge in 2006, but could only manage a third-place finish last season.