Nelson Mandela celebrates his 94th birthday today, which makes it apt to recall the plethora of sporting greats who have enjoyed the company of the greater man.

Yet sadly Mandela could not attend the seminal 2010 World Cup when South Africa hosted the tournament for the first time on the continent.

beckham and mandela

Former England captain David Beckham poses with former South African President Nelson Mandela in 2003 at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He pulled out of attending the opening ceremony and match between South Africa and Mexico after the death of his great-granddaughter in a car crash. Zenani Mandela, 13, was killed on the way home from a pre-tournament concert in Soweto the previous day.

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Although missed in Johannesburg and for the remainder of the tournament, his country has his inspiring presence at the successful 1995 rugby union World Cup final to remember. Two years previously, his prestige perhaps persuaded Manchester United and Arsenal to visit the country in the post-Apartheid era before he became president nine months later. And many more flocked to visit him and his country..

Here's 94 Pictures of Nelson Mandela On His 94th Birthday...

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  • South African President Nelson Mandela signs a rugby ball during a ceremony where he received the Freedom of the City and County of Cardiff

  • Nelson Mandela

  • A Nelson Mandela fan has his hero immortalised in ink

  • A coffee cup mosaic depicting the former South African president's face

  • Nelson Mandela stands with the Duke of Gloucester as he is invested as a Knight of St John. The 86-year-old former President of South Africa receives his insignia - an eight-pointed cross - at a ceremony in St James's Palace, London. 17/12/04

  • Nelson Mandela at the Make Poverty History Rally, which was held in Trafalgar Square in central London, 2005. Some 220 unions, pressure groups, charities, faith groups and celebrities have joined together to put pressure on the government to deliver fair trade and further dept relief to developing countries. Alma Robinson/allactiondigital.com

  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair is greeted by former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, May 31, 2007

  • Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, left, shares a joke with Nelson Mandela,centre, and his wife Sarah Brown, right, at 10 Downing Street, London. Tuesday Aug. 28, 2007. A statue of the former South African president is being unveiled in London on Aug. 29. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

  • FIFA President Sepp Blatter meets Nelson Mandela and gives him a replica of the World Cup trophy. 2008

  • A jovial Nelson Mandela takes his seat in Soweto's Jabulani Stadium, Feb. 13, 1990, before addressing a crowd of 120,000 who packed the venue to hear him speak. Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, was released from from prison two days before. (AP Photo)

  • Prince Charles with Nelson Mandela & the Spice Girls at a charity concert 1997

  • U.S. superstar Michael Jackson, right, hugs South African President Nelson Mandela, at the conclusion of a brief meeting at Mandela's Pretoria residence Saturday, July 20, 1996. Jackson was on a three-day visit to South Africa. (AP Photo/Adil Bradlow)

  • Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel at Buckingham Palace, London. Picture Date: Wednesday June 25, 2008. The meeting is part of a week long visit marking the former South African President's 90th birthday. See PA story ROYAL Mandela. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

  • In this July 4, 1993 file photo, President Bill Clinton, left, and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, file)

  • Former South African President Nelson Mandela is seen in Johannesburg, Tuesday Sept. 2, 2008, as the Oxford University Press and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation announced a partnership to promote leadership and scholarship in Africa. The partnership will see at least 18 scholars benefit from financial and educational support within the first five years. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

  • In this Wednesday August 21, 1996, file photo Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, right, meets with President Nelson Mandela, left, in Cape Town South Africa. South Africa said Monday, March 23, 2009, it wanted to avoid being the source of bad publicity about trading partner China, and ended up itself the target of sharp criticism for barring the Dalai Lama from a peace conference in Johannesburg later this week. Friday's conference is now the target of a boycott by retired Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former president F.W. de Klerk and members of the Nobel Committee who had been expected to be among Nobel laureates, Hollywood celebrities and other dignitaries discussing issues ranging from combatting racism to promoting sports to bring people and nations together. (AP Photo/Sasa Kralj, File)

  • A child dressed as a doctor sits on the lap of South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela, Friday, July 31, 2009 during the launch of a children's hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mandela has combined his 91st birthday celebration with the opening of a new children's hospital. According to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, which spearheaded the project, the hospital will be the fifth devoted to providing specialist medical care to children on the continent. Two others are in Egypt, one is in Kenya, and the other is in Cape Town. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)

  • Nelson Mandela, a senior member of the African National Congress, in prison on Robben Island. 1964

  • Former South African Former President Nelson Mandela leaves after he attended the memorial of his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela at the St Stithian's College Chapel in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, June 17, 2010. Thirteen-year-old Zenani Mandela was killed in a car that overturned on June 10 as it took her home from a pre-World Cup concert in Soweto. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, POOL)

  • Former South African Former President Nelson Mandela is led by his wife Grace Machel, right, as they arrive for a memorial service for his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela at the St Stithian's College Chapel in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, June 17, 2010. Thirteen-year-old Zenani Mandela was killed in a car that overturned on June 10 as it took her home from a pre-World Cup concert in Soweto. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, POOL)

  • Nelson Mandela enjoying his first look at his wax work model at Madame Tussauds, London. 1991

  • Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi, right, and South African President Nelson Mandela salute the crowd as they arrive at the congress center in Zuwarah, 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Tripoli, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997. Mandela stopped in Libya on his way back from the Commomwealth summit in Scotland to honor Gadhafi with the Cape Horn award, the highest South African honor to foreign figures. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)

  • Nelson Mandela, left, and his wife Winnie, right, at Cape Town's airport prior to a flight to Johannesburg in this February 1990 photo, the day after his release from prison.

  • Pope John Paul II, right, shakes hands with Nelson Mandela, deputy leader of African National Congress, during a private audience at the Vatican, Friday, June 15, 1990, Rome, Italy. (AP Photo/Claudio Luffoli)

  • South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela meets with Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, right, on Sunday, May 20, 1990 in Cairo. Both are in Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

  • South African President Nelson Mandela stands with The Queen in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace on his arrival for a state banquet in his honour. See PA story MANDELA Visit. WPA Rota photo by John Stillwell/PA

  • Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for years. Royal Danish visit to South Africa.

  • Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for years. Royal Danish visit to South Africa.

  • On the stage of the concert held in his honour, Deputy President of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela addressed and saluted the crowd, with a clenched fist, in Wembley Stadium, London, April 16, 1990, and thanked them for their support during his 27 years in prison. Mandela's wife Winnie applauds her husband, left. The five-hour concert was televised in over 40 countries and all the proceeds went to charities. (AP Photo/Staff/Allen)

  • In this 1961 file photo, Nelson Mandela, then a 42-year-old, political activist and an able heavyweight boxer and physical culturist, is seen. The son of a minor chieftain, Mandela took his degree in Law at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. (AP Photo, file)

  • Schoolchildren from Mqekezweni greet ANC President Nelson Mandela during his visit Saturday, March 5, 1994. Mandela went to school in this village and returned to visit it during his two-day campaign tour of the Transkei for the upcoming all-race general elections scheduled for April 27. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)

  • South African president Nelson Mandela kisses his wife Winnie Mandela at a rally in Cape Town in early 1993. Local radio reported Thursday Aug.17 1995 that Nelson Mandela had hired a lawyer to institute divorce proceedings against his wife. (AP PHOTO/BENNY GOOL)

  • South African President Nelson Mandela holds up a traditional Zulu shield and stick during the African National Congress' final election rally in Inzinga in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands Monday June 24, 1996, ahead of this week's delayed local government elections.(AP Photo/Adil Bradlow) Ref #: PA.7577680

  • President and Mrs. Clinton stand with South African President Nelson Mandela and his daughter, Zinzi Mandela Hlongwane, Tuesday night, Oct., 4, 1994 at the North Portico of the White House. The Clintons hosted a state dinner for Mandela. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)

  • The three ANC Youth Leaders, Nelson Mandela, centre, Walter Sisulu, left, and Harrison Motlana, pictured in 1952 during the Defiance Campaign trial at the Johannesburg Supreme Court, South Africa. The Defiance Campaign encourages blacks to defy apartheid laws. (AP Photo)

  • African National Congress President Nelson Mandela prior to the taping of Rev. Jesse Jacksons 'Both Sides' show at CNN studios in Washington Saturday, Sept. 25, 1993. The show will be broadcast 9 p.m. EDT Saturday.

  • Nelson Mandela holds up two pens given to him by the Union of Mine Workers at his victory celebration on Monday, May 2, 1994 in Johannesburg. Mandela was celebrating the win which is set to sweep him and the ANC to power after South Africa's first all-race elections. The mine workers asked him to sign the new constitution and other important documents with the pens.

  • Nelson Mandela, deputy President of the African National Congress, casts his vote for new leadership in the ANC, Friday, June 5, 1991, Durban South Africa.

  • England's Michael Atherton (centre) meets South African President Nelson Mandela (second left) World Cup Qualifier%0D Ian Rush, Wales %0D celebrates after %0D scoring against the %0D RCS

  • SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA GREETS SPANISH PRESIDENT JOSE MARIA AZNAR, AT THE EUROPEAN SUMMIT IN CARDIFF.

  • Prime Minister John Major meets President Nelson Mandela at Downing Street today (Wed) the second day of the South African leader's state visit to the country. Nelson Mandela was born on July the 18th, 1918.

  • The Duchess of Kent shares a joke with South African President Nelson Mandela in the Union Building in Pretoria, South Africa where she took time out from a visit to the country in her role as Patron of the UK Committe for UNICEF and he interupted a cabinet meeting to meet her. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA.

  • South African President Nelson Mandela arrived at Heathrow airport with the woman who has replaced his ex-wife Winnie, grinning at suggestions he was to marry her. Graca Machel, widow of Mozambique president Samora Machel. * Who will be alongside Mr Mandela when he meets the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

  • The Prince of Wales (left) and South Africa's President, Nelson Mandela, shake hands before tonight's (Tuesday) banquet in Cape town. POOL PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN STILLWELL/PA.

  • President Nelson Mandela (left) meets World Boxing Council heavyweight title holder Lennox Lewis on his arrival at the South African High Commission in London where Mr Mandela was hosting a fund raising breakfast in aid of the 'Nelson Mandela Children's Fund' which aims to help South African children who are homeless, without adequate education or in need of disaster relief.

  • Former South African President Nelson Mandela dances on stage at the Peacock theatre after his lecture, held in the London School of Economics and Political Science.

  • Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, left, has a warm greeting for Nelson Mandela, at a Global Health Forum at the University of Washington in Seattle. Mandela is spending three days in the Seattle area.

  • South African President Nelson Mandela, left, holds hands with Diana Princess of Wales during a photocall in Cape Town, Monday, March 17 1997. Princess Diana payed the courtesy visit to Mandela while visiting her brother, Earl Spencer, in Cape Town. (AP PHOTO/Sasa Kralj)

  • South African President Nelson Mandela, center dances with Gauteng Provincial Premier Tokio Sexwale, right, to a song by artist Condry Siqubu, left, Sunday January 7 1996. The event took place during the African National Congress' 84th birthday celebrations held in Carltonville, a mining town approximately 60 miles (100 kms) south-west of Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Conus Bodenstein)

  • South Africa's President Nelson Mandela arrives to greet Queen Elizabeth II as she visits the country for the first time since 1947