2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™

11 June - 11 July

2010 FIFA World Cup™

We want a great game for Mandela - Sono

Jomo Sono's face lights up as he comes across the name of the 66-year-old "Pele" among his team's list of illustrious opponents.

"If Pele plays, I will play too," jokes Sono, the rotund coach of the African XI that will take on Pele's World XI in a game celebrating the 89th birthday of the iconic Nelson Mandela at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town on July 18.

The legendary Brazilian number 10 is of course these days unlikely to bang in the goals with the power and precision with which he did in his heyday, but for football connoisseurs the sight of the great Edson Arantes do Naschimento on a football pitch will still bring a tingle to the spine.

Sono, voted South African Footballer of the Century in 2002, has fond memories of Pele, as they were twin strikers who helped the New York Cosmos win the North American professional league in 1977.

"Playing with Pele was the greatest experience of my life. Growing up he was my hero and I always dreamt of one day playing with him. God answered my prayers and to this day we are still good friends," said Sono.

Given the former's age and the latter's girth, the "rivalry" on the pitch between Pele and Sono is likely to be of the tame kind, but Sono nevertheless said his team would approach the sentimental game looking to entertain the crowd - and beat the World XI.

The game will be the second FIFA game in Mandela's honour, an unprecedented feat, with Sono also the coach in 1999 when the African XI drew 2-2 against the World XI in the FIFA tribute match to Mandela.

"I must be doing something right to be chosen again," said Sono of the accolade of being chosen to again coach the African team which will take on a world team featuring players like Holland's Ruud Gullit, Spain's Emilio Butragueno, Andoni Zubizaretta and France '98 World Cup winner Christian Karembeu.

"We want to give Mandela the best football game he's ever seen for his 89th birthday. After all, this is not a circus, people are coming to see a great game of football", said an upbeat Sono, adding "we must go one better (than in 1999), and win it this time".

Sono, known in his playing days as the "Black Prince", is regarded as South Africa's greatest footballer after his stellar career with South African club Orlando Pirates.

In his glittering career he also played alongside Franz Beckenbauer and George Best.

While he may not consider the game a "circus", should he don his team's jersey on the night, there might well be a big top feel to the proceedings.

The charismatic coach was quick to point out light-heartedly that he would probably need a much bigger jersey than most these days.

"Maybe they should organise me a tent to wear. I would like to play for about 10 to 15 minutes for Madiba...as long as they don't make me run," laughed the 52-year old coach.

Sono is highly respected in the area of professional soccer development and was very instrumental in grooming such talents as former Leeds United striker Philemon "Chippa" Masinga (FC Bari) and former Charlton and Lazio defender Mark Fish, who will play for the African XI in the game.

Other African football luminaries to feature in the game will be Barcelona's current star Samuel Eto'o and former Leeds and Bafana Bafana skipper Lucas Radebe, as well as former Zambian captain Kalusha Bwalya and Liberia's George Weah.