Seldom has a player written off so many times penned such epic comeback moments as Siyabonga Nomvethe.
Discounted by many in the build-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Nomvethe was nonetheless one of Carlos Alberto Parreira’s surprise inclusions in the Brazilian coach's provisional 30-man squad. Before his unexpected call-up, Nomvethe had not featured for Bafana Bafana in over three years. His last call up came back in March 2007, when South Africa took Bolivia at Ellis Park. “It’s been a while, but I can tell you, it’s good to be back in the national team," he said. "When I joined the camp, I got this strange feeling inside of me and I knew at that moment that I had missed this place terribly."
The last three years, spent largely in obscurity, have been testing for the Moroka Swallow striker. A forgotten man in his home country, he had to struggle with injuries that derailed his progress and, until recently, buried his chances of clawing his way back into the national team set-up. However, late last year, in an attempt to reinvent himself, he decided to return to South Africa and signed for local side, Moroka Swallows.
It was his performances with Swallows that prompted a last-minute change of heart for Parreira. At 33, what Nomvethe doesn’t have is time on his side. “All I want to do is to contribute towards making this World Cup a memorable one for my country. I hope that I can add value in this team,” he told FIFA.com.
While South Africa continue to enjoy healthy possession rates, one of their most glaring weaknesses remains a failure to convert chances into goals. During the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, the South Africans impressed, but paid the price for their own profligacy. The absence of their most prolific goalscocer, Benni McCarthy, has often been blamed for these goalscoring problems. However, with the returning McCarthy’s lack of game time due to injuries still concerning Parreira, he has called on Nomvethe’s experience to provide mentorship to some of his young strikers that include the rapidly-improving Katlego Mphela and Bernard Parker. Mphela, in particular, has hailed the veteran's impact within the camp.
Nomvethe certainly comes with impressive experience, having sampled top-level football in three different European countries. He made his overseas break with Italian side Udinese in 2001 and went on to star for the likes of Danish side Aalborg, Djurgaderns IF in Sweden and Italian duo Empoli and Salernitana.
At the peak of his career, Nomvethe was one of South Africa's key strikers, and remained hopeful of a return even as his star steadily faded. “I have never retired, even though a lot of people thought I had given up on the prospects of playing for my country," he said. "Even when the coaches were ignoring me, I never gave up. I knew that all I needed to do was to be prepared and ready for an opportunity to represent my country again.”
The Durban-born striker, whose first Bafana Bafana appearance came 11 years ago, also has his own unique place in South African football history. It was Nomvethe, after all, who scored the only goal in South Africa’s maiden FIFA World Cup victory: a 1-0 win over Slovenia at Korea/Japan 2002. “I will never forget that game and that goal was special, probably one of my proudest moments in football," he recalled. His hope now is that history will repeat itself.