Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma has dedicated the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa's icon, Nelson Mandela.
Zuma said Mandela had worked tirelessly to ensure that South Africa won the rights to host the tournament and that the former president was an inspiration to South Africans and the world.
He singled out Mandela's "undying belief in humanity and his love for this country and its people".
"We love him dearly as a nation and dedicate the 2010 FIFA World Cup to him," the President said.
Speaking at the opening of the FIFA Congress in Midrand on Wednesday, Zuma described the hosting of the World Cup as a defining and critical moment in South Africa's history.
He added that the value of the tournament on nation building was immeasurable and priceless.
"The South African flag has never been so popular in its 16 year history. It has become the most powerful symbol that identifies and unites South Africans," the President said.
Looking back to when South Africa was awarded the World Cup, Zuma said FIFA had decided Africa's time had come and that the brand new nation that had emerged from centuries of conflict should be given the opportunity to showcase its ability.
"South Africa needed this World Cup. We needed such a show of confidence by the international community. It has made us step back and appreciate the strides we have made since we buried apartheid and became one rainbow nation, united in its diversity."
The President thanked FIFA for its support, saying the football body had refused to believe pessimists who said South Africa would not be able to host the tournament
The infrastructure developed for the soccer spectacle and other legacy projects would remain long after the World Cup, the president said.
Zuma also pledged South Africa's support for the 1Goal: Education for All Campaign, which seeks to have 75-million illiterate children and millions of adults in an effective education system by 2014.
South Africa will continue supporting FIFA and the United Nations in the campaign, Zuma said.
The President recognised the contribution of construction workers who worked hard to ensure that airports, stadia and other developments were ready in time for the World Cup.
He acknowledged the work put in by the 15 000 local and international volunteers into areas such as information services, media, protocol, spectator services and transportation.
The Local Organising Committee, former president Thabo Mbeki and the 2010 Inter-Ministerial Committee also played a huge role the World Cup, Zuma added.
"We thank these selfless men and women who are contributing to unity, friendship and co-existence in the world. We wish all the teams, coaches and nationals well as they do battle from Friday."