Philipp Lahm is already one of Germany's most popular players and he's quickly winning over a new legion of fans on his first visit to South Africa. Lahm, who scored Germany's sensational opening goal of the Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in their 4-2 win over Costa Rica, is in South Africa on a goodwill visit in his role as an ambassador for the SOS Children's Village.
Shortly after his arrival in the country that will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the diminutive 23-year-old Bayern Munich defender visited the Ennerdale SOS Children's Village in the south of Johannesburg. The village takes care of around 160 orphaned and abandoned children. And Lahm joined in with relish in a game of football with kids from the SOS village, who took great delight in sharing the pitch with a real life FIFA World Cup hero.
Even on the small and bumpy football pitch on the school's grounds, Lahm showed the pace and skills which has made him so admired in world football. Lahm was joined at the village and on the trip to South Africa by fellow German international Piotr Trochowski, with England international Owen Hargreaves also set to join them this week. For Lahm, the visit was no mundane public relations exercise. He clearly reveled in spending time with the kids and took part in the impromptu football match with gusto.
"It's my first time here in South Africa and it's been so nice," said Lahm. "The weather's great and the people are so lovely, so friendly. Not all kids have been as fortunate as I have been in my life and it's important for us as players to do as much as we can for kids who are less fortunate. It's been such a pleasure for me to be here in Johannesburg with the kids from the SOS Children's Village. They're great players. Considering their age, they're very good."
'It's so exciting'
One of the children who will forever cherish his game of football with the German internationals was 15-year-old Tumelo Mathebula, who has been in the care of the SOS Children's Village for nearly eight years. "I can't believe they're here with us. It's so exciting," said Mathebula just before his wish of playing with the stars was granted.
"They're our role models and to shake hands with them and talk to them is incredible. I hope I'll get to play against them to show them that us South Africans also have talent. Having the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 is a big experience for our country and there's so much hard work going into making sure that we're ready. We're so excited at having these two players here with us, having all the world's football stars in our country at the same time will be amazing." And while he's doing his utmost to somehow catch the eye of South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, Mathebula has been taught at the SOS Children's Village that there's more to life than playing international football.
"I hope I can make the Bafana Bafana squad for 2010," Mathebula says with great maturity. "Everybody's working hard for it and anything's possible, but my teachers here have taught me that my education is just as important as my football. They've taught me that without respect you will get nowhere in life and that God is also important." The Ennerdale SOS Children's Village director, Martin Isaacs, said the visit of the German stars to the school was "quite something". "It's great for the SOS Children's Village, for our partnership with FIFA and for the whole country as a whole. It's a great kickoff for 2010," said Isaacs.
For South Africans it's still a surreal experience knowing that the country will host Africa's first FIFA World Cup in exactly three years, but visits to the country by players like Lahm and Tchokovsky make the dream so much more real.
For his part, Lahm is still dreaming himself of Germany's progression to the 2006 FIFA World Cup semi-finals.
"It was very important for me scoring in the first game of the 2006 World Cup, watched by one and a half billion people around the world," said Lahm. "Two weeks before the World Cup I injured my elbow and wasn't sure if I would play. So to play and then score in the first game was unbelievable. Everyone was so friendly in Germany during the World Cup. It was a four-week party and I am sure it will be the same in South Africa in 2010."