Reporting from Johannesburg — As a young man Mexican Coach Javier Aguirre came to admire Nelson Mandela. But on Friday he'll be trying to spoil the opening act of the month-long World Cup party Mandela's victory over apartheid made possible.
"I was very interested to study Nelson Mandela and read books about him," Aguirre said Thursday. "He is an icon. I hope that I can shake his hand. It would be a great honor."
Aguirre made the comments during a meeting with reporters at Soccer City Stadium, where Mexico will open the first World Cup on African soil against the host country Friday. Mandela, in frail health, hopes to make an appearance at the game to inspire the home team.
Which leaves Aguirre in a bit of pickle: He'd like to meet Mandela but he would just as soon have the former president leave the stadium before kickoff.
"For 90 minutes I will be against South Africa," Aguirre said. "But after I will support them."
Beggars can't be pleasers
In an effort to make the World Cup more palatable to foreign guests, local officials have been moving beggars, street hawkers and the homeless from areas where they might come in contact with visitors.
Civil rights groups complain that hundreds of poor families have been taken from downtown Cape Town to a shanty area 10 outside the city. And in Johannesburg, police have been arresting blind beggars, warning them to leave the streets.
Authorities dispute those claims, with Kylie Hatton, a spokesman for the city of Cape Town telling Bloomberg News that "nobody is being moved against their will. There is no policy to remove people from the city streets as a clean-up campaign for World Cup."
Carlos Simon, the Brazilian referee who will work Saturday's England-U.S. match, has been studying English – and not exactly the Queen's English – in preparation for the game.
Simon told Brazilian's Globo Sport that he and his two assistants have been learning English-language obscenities to ensure players don't try to get away with any abuse.
Roberto Braatz, one of Simon's assistants, says the officials won't be learning swear words in "11 different languages but at least we have to know them in English."
The ancestors have spoken
Everyone is backing the Bafana Bafana. Even dead people are picking the South African soccer team to win its first match Friday with Mexico.
The Sowetan newspaper asked leaders in a variety of religious traditions their opinions on the World Cup opener and they all picked the home team to win. But none were as strong in their conviction as the township sangomas.
Sangomas practice herbal medicine, divination and counseling and their philosophy is based on a belief in ancestral spirits. And the spirits are calling for an upset.
"I see Bafana winning their first game 4-0," Nomusa Magwaza, a sangoma from Green Village in Soweto told the newspaper. "They will win all their group matches until they reach the quarterfinals. But that is where their journey will end."
Another sangoma, who did not want to be identified, told the paper "Bafana will do very well. They are certainly not going to win it, but they will reach the second round."
FIFA President Sepp Blatter closed the group's annual Congress Thursday by telling delegates he will run for re-election in 2011. The 74-year-old Swiss native was first elected in 1998.