Pele wishes South Africa well in World Cup

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By MATT MEDVED

A star-studded line-up of football legends graced a Cape Town restaurant last night before tonight’s “90 Minutes for Mandela” exhibition match.

The match, which will be played at Newlands stadium, pits an all-star African XI against a World XI team in honour of Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday.

Mandela, meanwhile, was in Johannesburg today and besides hosting a press conference on a new humanitarian anti-poverty club of “global elders” such as Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter, he planned to spend the day with his family.

Tonight’s match features such football icons as Brazilian star Pelé, as well as Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, Dutch great Ruud Gullit and former Spanish striker Emilio “The Vulture” Butragueno.

City 2010 officials have dubbed the match a “litmus test” of Cape Town’s capacity to support football in advance of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“Cape Town is often not seen as a soccer city by way of filling the stands,” said Fifa vice-president Jack Warner. “However, sales for the match are now just under 30 000 seats.”

The stadium has a capacity of 51 000.

Mayor Helen Zille said the support proved Cape Town was ready to do its part in hosting the 2010 World Cup.

“We want South Africa to be among the top league of countries in the world,” Zille said at the restaurant last night. “And a response like this helps to disprove the afro-pessimists.”

In a short speech, Pelé joked that most of those present were not alive when he made his World Cup debut at age 17 in 1958.

He also wished South Africa luck with the 2010 World Cup, though his loyalties remained with his home team Brazil.

“Everybody knows football is everything to me,” said Pelé.

“Football has given me the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet different people and cultures.”

The World XI team will also include Christian Karembu of France and Andoni Zubi-zarreta of Spain.

The African XI team will include former Bafana Bafana favourites Mark Fish and Philemon “Chippa” Masinga, as well as Abedi Pelé of Ghana, Rabah Madjer of Algeria, Kalusha Bwalya of Zambia and Daniel Amokachi of Nigeria.

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~ by Matt Medved on July 18, 2007.

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