The number "90" is synonymous with the beautiful game of football.

As anyone with even the most remote interest in the game will tell you, 90 minutes is the length of a standard football match. In South Africa and indeed around the world this week, however, the number "90" is synonymous with just one thing - Nelson Mandela turning the ripe old age of 90 on Friday July 18.

Moments after South Africa won the right to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in Zurich, with tears welling up in his eyes Madiba declared that he "feels like a young man of fifteen".

"As Madiba continues to go into extra time, we at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa will always remember him as that 'young man of fifteen'. He is our revered elder and the father of our proud nation, but he always has that ready smile and a twinkle in his eye, a man who dared to dream of a brighter and better future for our country," said Dr Danny Jordaan, the Chief Executive Officer of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa (OC).

"He made us believe that no matter how insurmountable our country's challenges may seem, they can be overcome. Madiba is the ultimate symbol of all that is good and great about South Africa and he epitomises all we at the Organising Committee are striving to achieve," Dr Jordaan added.

Organising Africa's first FIFA World Cup is no easy undertaking, Dr Jordaan said, adding that the country had plenty of critics, with challenges and obstacles a part of the OC's daily life.

"But we South Africans are made of stern stuff. And it is Madiba (Mandela's clan name) who is a constant reminder to us that of all the challenges our country has faced and continues to face, none is greater than the challenge we've already overcome. It is with that spirit that we continue to persevere and continue to plan and prepare to host in 2010 a FIFA World Cup all of Africa will be proud of," said Dr Jordaan.

It was Mandela, he said, who was the symbol of South Africa's struggle to overcome apartheid.

Against what seemed insurmountable odds, Mandela and his comrades persevered, they stood firm and remained resolute. Even when imprisoned and stripped of their rights, they remained dignified, unbowed, unwavering.

They knew their time would come and they were willing to lay down their lives so that one day South Africans could dare to dream about the things they today believe are always within reach - such as hosting Africa's first FIFA World Cup.

"We at the 2010 Organising Committee can ask for no greater inspiration than Nelson Mandela. There are many who continue to doubt that South Africa will host as massive an undertaking as the FIFA World Cup in our country in 2010. But we as a country managed to overcome the apartheid regime after all. Our resolve is great, and we will be ready when the time comes to stage the world's biggest sporting event," said Dr Jordaan.

He said time spent with Mandela these days is few and far between, but that he continued to inspire the OC's staffers every day.

The World Cup's slogan is "Ke Nako. Celebrate Africa's Humanity", with Jordaan saying it could well have been written with Madiba in mind, because there can be no greater symbol of Africa's humanity than Mandela and the life he has led.

"The image of Madiba in tears at the Zurich World Trade Centre moments after FIFA President Joseph Blatter announced us as 2010 hosts will remain with me forever. Surely there could be no man more deserving of tears of unbridled joy. Knowing what that moment meant to as revered a figure as Madiba gives us at the Organising Committee a very clear perspective of the extent of our responsibility," said Dr Jordaan.

The day South Africa was awarded the right to stage the tournament, 15 May 2004, Jordaan felt was more than the day South Africa was awarded the right to stage a football tournament. It was reward and recognition for a forgotten country whose moment had finally come.

"Come June 11, 2010, we won't disappoint. Happy Birthday Madiba."