It was on the opening night of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ last year that Siphiwe Tshabalala made his mark on history. Ten minutes into the second half at a packed Soccer City, the dreadlocked winger set off down the left hand side of the attack and unleashed a rasping shot for a goal that so memorably marked the opening of the tournament.
It was a brilliant strike, cheered to the rafters, and one that ultimately won him a place at the FIFA Gala at the end of the year as one of the candidates for the Puskas Award for best goal of 2010. More than a year on from the moment that South African fans love to relive, Tshabalala is still basking in the glory of the strike that is regularly broadcast on domestic television. He is also in the midst of helping Bafana Bafana try to reach the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations as they also prepare to start their qualifying road to Brazil 2014.
“My life has changed a lot since that goal. People respect me now because of participating in the World Cup and the goal that I scored. It’s been a great year since and I’m enjoying it,” says Tshabalala a week ahead of his 27th birthday. “It was certainly the highlight of my career to date, and then at the end of the year, it is huge for any player to be included among the best goals of the year, being nominated at the highest level and being under one roof with the world’s biggest stars. I was very, very happy to be part of that.”
It has, he says, been an almost perfect year since, playing for both club and country, except for the fact he did not secure a transfer overseas. “Besides not being able to get a move, it has been going well for me and I’m very happy.”
Bringing the Boys together
But for South Africans, Tshabalala was making waves long before his name catapulted around the world as the ball whistled into the back of Mexico’s net on 11 June, 2010. He was a surprise choice for South Africa ahead of the 2006 Cup of Nations and went to the tournament in Egypt unheralded, only to emerge as a regular pick for his country ever since. He also played in the 2008 finals in Ghana and is hoping for a third appearance at the upcoming tournament to be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon next January.
South Africa are one point behind Niger in their qualifying group, and they will be looking to defeat Sierra Leone in Port Elizabeth early next month to give themselves a good chance of leaping the surprising Nigeriens. “Our last game is at home, and it is a must win. We are going to win and I don’t think those guys [Niger] are going to win their game in Egypt,” he said.
The objective will be to pass the first round for the first time and anything is possible after that.
A relative veteran, with plenty of firepower in the attacking third, Tshabalala is among the key players entrusted with securing Bafana’s progress. South Africa won the event in 1996 as hosts and reached the semi-finals of the next two tournaments as well, but they have failed to make much of a mark since. And then there is the long road to Brazil looming large in the distance, in which the side will try to reach their fourth FIFA World Cup in the last five at the expense of two much-improved sides, Botswana and Central African Republic, in Group A.
“I still have to help the national team qualify for 2014 World Cup in Brazil and hopefully we are going to do that,” he said. “We have a team of potential. We’ve been playing together for quite some time now, so we know each other. I think we definitely are going to have a chance to go to the next round [at the finals]. The objective will be to pass the first round for the first time and anything is possible after that.”
Tshabalala also says he would still like to achieve the milestone of 100 international appearances for South Africa and to play for an overseas club. “It is still on my agenda,” he adds. And then there is the small matter of scoring the first goal at the next FIFA World Cup, too...