Sepp Blatter, the Swiss president of the world footballing body Fifa, is hopeful that Nelson Mandela will be healthy enough to open the World Cup in South Africa.
The former South African president, anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, now 91, made his last public appearance to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his release from prison on February 11.
"We cross our fingers that Nelson Mandela ... can realise this dream. For the time being, he is doing well and we hope that he can do it," Blatter said on Friday in Zurich at his last regular news conference before the tournament starts on June 11.
The Fifa president, who faced questions about South Africa's readiness to host the tournament, said he was confident the event would be a success and predicted that more than 95 per cent of tickets would be sold.
Fifa secretary-general Jérôme Valcke, who is responsible for overseeing the tournament, said South Africa was so well prepared it could start it “tomorrow”.
Valcke also said Fifa was pleased that many airlines had scheduled additional flights to transport the 360,000 spectators expected to make their way to South Africa.
Blatter brushed off suggestions that as a developing country South Africa was a bad choice to host the World Cup, saying the African continent deserved to host the event because of all that it had given to world football.
He also insisted the South African team could bring together the country's different ethnic groups, especially if, as he hoped, the home squad reaches the semifinals.
Switzerland face Spain, Chile and Honduras in their qualification group.
swissinfo.ch and agencies
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