World Cup 2010 - Mandela shows up at final

Reuters - Sun, 11 Jul 19:04:00 2010

Nelson Mandela attended the opening of the World Cup final between Spain and Netherlands, thrilling fans and capping South Africa's pride in staging a successful tournament.

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The much loved former leader, 91, who is in frail health, briefly toured the pitch in a golf cart surrounded by bodyguards before the match.

He was greeted ecstatically by the crowd in the huge flagship Soccer City stadium who chanted his clan name Madiba and blew vuvuzela trumpets.

Mandela was unable to attend the opening ceremony on June 11 because of the death of his great grand-daughter in a car accident the night before.

But his grandson Mandla said earlier he wanted to greet the fans after a tournament that has boosted national pride and defied predictions of chaos and disaster.

Before Mandela's appearance, Colombian singer Shakira led a glitzy closing ceremony, singing the official World Cup song "Waka Waka" with local group Freshly Ground.

Spotlights, fireworks and lasers lit up the night sky, and giant puppet elephants paraded around the pitch.

The successful tournament is triumph for South Africa which has confounded years of foreign reports that it would be a failure, ruined by violent crime, chaos and unfinished stadiums.

President Jacob Zuma thanked the nation, saying they were stars and champions for hosting a successful tournament and "opening up your country and your hearts to the world."

Despite being the first host nation eliminated at the group stage, locals have remained enthusiastic spectators, helping this World Cup to be the third best attended ever, with 3 million seats sold, behind the United States in 1994 and Germany in 2006.

Chief local organiser Danny Jordaan said the tournament had brought the races together and enabled South Africans to walk tall after being told for years they were inferior. "The nation has crossed a huge psychological barrier," he said.

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.

Reuters

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