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Mandela has sights set on the big stage

NELSON MANDELA is determined to climb off his sick bed and make a brief appearance at today’s opening World Cup match – at the age of 91.

The former South African president wants to sample a taste of the atmosphere at the showpiece event when the hosts take on Mexico at Johannesburg’s 94,000-capacity Soccer City.

Mandela’s health has become increasingly fragile in recent years, but any appearance would be hugely symbolic for a nation, which has come together to celebrate its finest hour.

“He intends to be there,” said World Cup chief Danny Jordaan. “Whether he comes for five minutes or the whole match is not our decision.

“As things stand now there is a very good chance that he will be with us because he wants to be there.”

It is more likely that Mandela will arrive to greet the capacity crowd at the end of the opening ceremony and moments before the 3pm kick-off.

But his grandson Mandla Mandela stressed his health will be monitored before any decision is made on his attendance. “We wouldn’t want to risk his health for a soccer game,” he said.

Mandela is hoping to join current South Africa president Jacob Zuma and Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the event, and Zuma, in particular, is hoping his predecessor will be fit to attend. “Nelson Mandela worked hard so that we could win the right to host this tournament. We dedicate the World Cup to him,” he said.

“South Africa has come alive, and will never be the same after this World Cup. There are a few moments that define a nation’s history, we stand on the threshold of one.”

The 40-minute opening ceremony gets underway at 1pm and involves no fewer than 1,581 performers. The estimated TV audience runs into hundreds of millions across 215 countries.