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When Blatter met Mandela, Sono and Zuma

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While the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 was winding down in its final week, the FIFA President continued his non-stop marathon of meetings and functions. On Thursday 25 June, for example, just a matter of hours before Brazil's semi-final with the host nation, he paid a visit to Nelson Mandela at his foundation. Known in his home country as Madiba, Mandela had welcomed the South Africa team the evening before, hoping to bring them luck before their meeting with the tournament favourites.

"It's a privilege and an honour to meet such a great man as Nelson Mandela again," said Blatter afterwards. "It was a highly emotional moment for me. I have the greatest respect for him for everything he has achieved."

The FIFA President's next high-level meeting was with South African footballing legend Jomo Sono. The former Orlando Pirates and New York Cosmos star, who enjoyed an exceptional playing career and went on to coach the national side on several occasions between 1998 and 2002, is the man behind the Jomo Cosmos F.C. Academy.

Blatter visited the academy, which has produced a host of talented players over the years, such as Phil Masinga, Helman Mkhalele, Sizwe Motaung and Mark Fish, and received a very warm and enthusiastic welcome from the youngsters hoping to follow in their footsteps. After a tour of the club's stadium, where both the Brazilians and the South Africans trained before the semi-final, Sono announced that one of the stands would be renamed the Joseph S. Blatter Stand.

South Africa is heading in the right direction. The LOC and the government have done some magnificent work, though there are still many challenges to be faced before the World Cup.

Taking a break for the semi-finals, in which A Canarinha scraped past the hosts 1-0 and USA scored a surprise 2-0 win over Spain, Blatter travelled to Rustenburg just in time to catch the amazing finale to the match for third place, with the European champions snatching a 3-2 win after extra time. Then it was time for the President of world football's governing body to speed off to Ellis Park in Johannesburg for the grand final.

Zuma, Robben Island and a special refereeing award
Before the festivities got under way on the pitch, though, an important ceremony took place inside the stadium. In recognition of his services to the Makana Football Association, which operated at the prison on Robben Island between 1965 and 1973, the President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma was presented with a special refereeing award by Joseph S. Blatter.

"I would like to thank FIFA. I am very moved," said Mr Zuma. "This takes me back to when I was young, when I could play and referee games."

After the tournament had ended on a high note with Brazil's stunning comeback from 2-0 down to beat the Americans 3-2, it was time to take stock of what had been a very busy fortnight. "South Africa is heading in the right direction," commented Blatter the following day. "The LOC and the government have done some magnificent work, though there are still many challenges to be faced before the World Cup."

"The authorities and the Organising Committee have shown tremendous dedication and we can assure you that South Africa and Africa in general will stage a high-quality World Cup that will leave an indelible mark. For the time being, though, I would like to thank the South African people and the volunteers for making this tournament a great success."

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