I was in Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg for the World Cup final 11 July between Spain and the Netherlands. More than 84,000 fans were in attendance that night, and it seemed like every one of them was blowing a vuvuzela. I wouldn’t say the match itself, though, was much to toot your horn over. It was a foul-plagued affair, with the Spaniards finally prevailing, 1-0, on an extra time goal by Andres Iniesta in the 116th minute.
Some of the loudest cheers in the stadium that night took place before the game even kicked off, and they were for the man affectionately known as “Madiba.” Former South African President Nelson Mandela made a brief appearance, waving to the big crowd from a motorized golf cart. It was a chilly evening in Johannesburg, and Mr. Mandela, who wore a winter coat, was quickly escorted from the stadium.
A week after the World Cup final, Mr. Mandela celebrated his 92nd birthday, and now, more than four months after football’s biggest event, the former South African President continues to show his passion for soccer, the world’s most popular sport.
The South African icon met this week with the national football teams from the United States and South Africa, who played in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge match in Cape Town. For USA coach Bob Bradley (seated to the right of Mr. Mandela in photo on left) and the youthful American squad, it was clearly a magical experience to meet “Madiba.”
“Mr. Mandela is one of the most significant and inspirational leaders of our time,” said Coach Bradley, “and to meet him personally is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”