Former South AfricanÂ Â president Nelson Mandela met the national teamÂ yesterday to wish them luck on the eve of their FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final against Brazil.
The 90-year-old Nobel Peace Prize Laureate greeted the players, who presented him with a green Bafana Bafana jersey that had his name stitched on the back. South Africa coach Joel Santana later spoke eloquently about what the meeting with Mandela had meant to him and his team.
â€œIt was a historic moment, Nelson Mandela is a worldwide symbol. We all got goose bumps when we met him,â€ the Brazilian said.
Santana added: â€œNelson Mandela is a supremely charismatic person. His presence and the way he spoke to us conveyed a great deal of tranquility to us.Â I thought Iâ€™d seen it all in my life, but I hadnâ€™t. I feel extremely proud to have had this opportunity and the players feel the same.â€ South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena echoed Santanaâ€™s sentiments, saying: â€œIt was a special moment meeting the old man.
â€œHe wished us all in turn â€˜good luckâ€™. His presence and calmness is unbelievable. Thatâ€™s something we have to take to the game tomorrow. As a player you can get nervous when youâ€™re playing a game like this, but his calmness will help a lot,â€ said Mokoena.
After taking office following the fall of apartheid, Mandela harnessed the popularity of sports in South Africa to press his message of racial reconciliation.
He famously donned the jersey of the Springbok rugby team to hand the 1995 FIFA World Cup trophy to the captain, an image that became a symbol of the new South Africa.
Meanwhile, South Africa face a worrying timeÂ to find out if striker Bernard Parker will be fit for todayâ€™s FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 semi-final against Brazil. Parker picked up a minor knee injury in training
yesterday and had to undergo medical tests and in the run-up to kick-off.Coach Joel Santana reported: â€œBernard had a slight problem and he was advised not to continue training.
â€œHeâ€™ll be having check-ups to see if he is able to play. Itâ€™ll be a shame if he doesnâ€™t take part tomorrow as heâ€™s a new and spontaneous talent.â€
The Red Star Belgrade forward has been instrumental in getting South Africa into the last four, with his two goals sinking New Zealand to help the hosts take the runners-up spot in their group.
That brace was sweet redemption for Parker after he unwittingly blocked Kagisho Dikgacoiâ€™s goal-bound header in the 84th minute of the opening 0-0 draw with Iraq.