International football community salutes Mandela (Special Features)

Cape Town- South Africa (PANA) -- There are so many extra-ordinary photographs of South Africa's favourite son, but the one image that captures the mood of the c o untry's greatest sporting achievement - securing the rights to host the 2010 Wor l d Cup - is of Nelson Mandela, clutching that priceless 6-kilogramme solid gold t r ophy in Zurich, Switzerland.
It was 15 May, 2004, and South Africa had just won the three-way contest to be t he first nation in Africa to host the planet's biggest single-code sporting even t .
An emotional Mandela then reportedly said: "I can see my grave now.
" But four ye ars have passed and Mandela (and much of the planet, it seems) is now celebratin g his 90th birthday.
Boxing may have been his sport of choice as a young lawyer and activist, but the international football community has embraced this icon for many years.
Flashback to 1994 when a new nation was born and 70,000 turned up at the inaugur al Nelson Mandela Challenge to watch South Africa beat Zambia at Ellis Park.
Heavyweights like Argentina, the Netherlands and Brazil are among the countries that have competed in this annual event.
Last weekend, Germany's southern city of Munich played host to the Goal4Africa s occer match to celebrate Mandela's birthday.
The game at the 69,000-seat Allianz Arena featured stars like Michael Ballack of Chelsea and Germany, multiple Formula One World champion Michael Schumacher and South African heroes Kaizer Motaung jnr and Shaun Bartlett.
At his inauguration as the country's first democratically-elected president, Man dela stressed his determination "to create a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world".
It was these ideals, which helped secure the rights to host the tournament in th e first place.
Despite the formidable challenges the country faced on the road to 2010, PANA jo ins the millions of people around the world who are supporting South Africa's ef f orts and saluting a statesman who made it all possible.

18 july 2008 15:42:00

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