MADIBA MAGIC FOR BAFANA

THE stadiums have been handed over, at least 10 of the 32 teams are here. Though we still await confirmation of former president Nelson Mandela's attendance, South Africa is ready to welcome the world to the best World Cup ever hosted.

THE stadiums have been handed over, at least 10 of the 32 teams are here. Though we still await confirmation of former president Nelson Mandela's attendance, South Africa is ready to welcome the world to the best World Cup ever hosted.

And yesterday Madiba donned the captain's jersey during a meeting with Bafana Bafana, injecting them with a little of his magic.

The Nobel peace prize winner, who turns 92 next month, met the squad and their Brazilian coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.

The foundation said the country's first black president drew cheers and a song from the team when he arrived wearing a number 4 Bafana jersey.

South Africa's sports teams have often turned to Mandela for inspiration before a major tournament or game.

The Springboks credit him with inspiring them to a home victory over New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup, by showing enthusiasm for a sport once associated with apartheid.

The frail statesman, who played a central role in South Africa's campaign to host the football World Cup, aims to do the same for Bafana, according to reports.

Mandela has reportedly asked for tickets to the opening game next week between South Africa and Mexico, Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile said yesterday.

But the Nelson Mandela Foundation refused to confirm the report.

"We don't discuss Mandela's movements because of security reasons," Sello Hatang, spokesperson for the foundation, said.

Yesterday even Parliament united to back the national soccer team amid hopes that the World Cup would bring together the country in the same way the Rugby World Cup did after the fall of apartheid.

Many MPs wore the yellow Bafana Bafana jersey, and parliamentary officials had their hands full trying to prevent excited members of Parliament from blowing their noisy vuvuzelas.

The rare show of cross-party unity came during a special session of Parliament just a week before kickoff next Friday.

"Today we are celebrating the fruits of a democratic country and celebrating the important event of the 2010 World Cup because we have been given a fair chance," Butana Khompela of the ANC told Parliament.

The government, which has spent billions of rands on stadiums, airports, roads and rail links, is eager to prove sceptics wrong after doubts about its ability to host the tournament.

"I am sure the infrastructure we have built will stand us in very good stead during our economic recovery," John Gunda of the Independent Democrats said.

"To those people who said we would never succeed - you were wrong."

"Seeing thousands of cars flying the SA flag ... is evoking patriotic emotions in all of us," said Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party.

But despite the excitement, Bafana are ranked 83rd in the Fifa standings and are 125-1 outsiders to win the tournament, according to bookmakers. - Reuters-Sapa-dpa

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