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Mandela plans to attend World Cup opener

JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela met with South Africa's national soccer team Thursday, the same day the country's ruling party said its most famous citizen will attend the World Cup's opening game and the final.

Mandela wore a yellow Bafana Bafana team jersey with the No. 4 of captain Aaron Mokoena on the front when he appeared with players at his foundation in Johannesburg. The players sang "Nelson Mandela there is no one like you," as he entered the room at his offices in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.

Mokoena then introduced Mandela to 6-6 defender Matthew Booth, and said of Booth, "Here is the tallest man in the building." Mandela himself is 6-4.

Hours earlier, African National Congress spokesman Jackson Mthembu said Mandela will make a rare public appearance at next Friday's tournament opener, between the host and Mexico, and the July 11 final. The announcement came amid worries the 91-year-old icon would be too frail to attend South Africa's biggest sporting event.

"Madiba will grace both the opening and the closing of the World Cup," Mthembu said, using the traditional clan name by which Mandela is affectionately known in South Africa. "We are very honored to have an icon of Mandela's caliber to grace this important event. We are very happy that Madiba will come. The Madiba magic will add to the excitement."

A spokesman at Mandela's foundation would not say if Mandela would attend the opening match, saying they do not disclose his schedule ahead of time for security reasons.

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