JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - English football captain David Beckham and members of his team beamed after meeting South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela, with the skipper saying it was "an amazing honour" to greet the elderly statesman.
Beckham, who has said he would like to see the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, gave Mandela an English soccer shirt with his surname on the back and the number three.
"It's great to be here today. It's an amazing honour for all of us," Beckham told reporters after Wednesday's meeting.
Mandela, 84, who is an avid sports fan, met the players from the English and South African soccer teams at his offices in Johannesburg.
The two sides go head to head in a friendly match in Durban, on South Africa's east coast, on Thursday.
Asked what he thought of Beckham's new braided hairstyle, Mandela said: "I'm too old to express an opinion on this development."
The SAPA news agency reported that Mandela told Beckham that South Africa hoped the English team would support its bid to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
"We are bidding for 2010... so that we can have the tournament here. We hope you will support our bid. It is necessary in countries where democracy is (new) for us to have that.
"If you, the British, support us, many other countries will do that. I'm sure you will," Mandela said.
Mandela's told the South African players to walk tall.
"When you are playing one of the best teams -- the English team are of course our friends -- you can make us walk tall, you have done so already.
"Of course in sports you have good and bad days, we hope this is a good day. I am holding thumbs in the interest of sport; we hope the best team will win," he said.
South Africa's captain Lucas Radebe gave a black shirt and cap sporting South Africa's 2010 bid logos to Mandela.
Irvin Khoza, vice president of the South Africa's Football Association, jokingly told the English players that Mandela did not originally want to meet them.
He said Mandela was "too inspiring" and was worried he would inspire the English team to beat the South Africans.
"But as a great statesman, he wanted to meet the English team."
Khoza then thanked the English for honouring an agreement in 1997 that they would play a match in South Africa.
This is the first time in a 100 years that the English soccer team will play a match on the African continent.
Radebe told SAPA after the meeting that he believed South Africa would do well at Thursday's match.
"We have got a score to settle. We will be playing one of the best teams and have got nothing to lose.
"It's time to prove that South African football has come of age," he said.