This morning the England team travelled from their team hotel in Durban to the N
This morning the England team travelled from their team hotel in Durban to the Nelson Mandela foundation in Johannesburg to meet the great man himself. TheFA.com was there to witness the historic occasion...
Surrounded by the cameras and smiles that follow him wherever he goes, Nelson Mandela sat on his chair and greeted each England player like a long lost son.
He waited for the room to hush before turning to David Beckham, who was sat next to him.
"We are bidding for the 2010 World Cup," he said in an almost hypnotic address. "This is important in a country where democracy is still a fledgling branch. If Britain supports us in our bid then others will follow."
As he finished speaking, the only reflex was to clap. The whole room burst into spontaneous applause. It both put football into its proper context but also brought into focus the power that sport has in the modern world.
Mr Mandela took the time to shake everyone by the hand. Though these days he may no longer be able to shout, his words travel miles and continents, piercing hearts and minds all over the globe.
"He has such an amazing aura, you feel relaxed and at home as soon as you are in his company," captain David Beckham told TheFA.com after he had presented Mr Mandela with an England shirt which had 'Mandela, 03' emblazoned on the back.
David Beckham may already have achieved a lot in football. He may also be one of the most famous men in the world. But he was visibly humbled when he came face to face with one of his own heroes.
"Meeting Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest moments of my career," he said.
England coach Sven Goran Eriksson agreed with his captain, saying: "It was a great honour to meet Nelson Mandela. He is a living legend."
Centre half Rio Ferdinand was also clearly in awe of the great man. "It was unbelievable," he said. "To see him sitting there cracking jokes was incredible. Just to spend a couple of minutes with him was amazing. I was so desperate to get my picture taken with him - these experiences come along once in a lifetime - if you're lucky."
Young midfielder Jermaine Jenas told us: "It was a great experience - I'm really glad to have done it. To meet someone in person that has known so much suffering yet has done so much for humanity is something I'll always remember."
West Ham midfielder Trevor Sinclair summed it up when he said: "To meet Mr Mandela fulfils a lifetime ambition. He represents everything that's good about humanity."
Irvin Khoza, The Chairman of the South African 2010 Bid, quipped that being in Nelson Mandela's company was so inspirational that the South Africans had not wanted the England team to meet him so close to the big game on Thursday.
The final word was left to Mr Mandela himself who said of the forthcoming friendly encounter between South Africa and England: "The most important thing about the match tomorrow is that the best team wins."
When Mr Mandela speaks words of wisdom, he does so in a way that everyone can understand.
From Daniel Freedman in Durban