South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune is a man for the big occasion, as he proved with his heroic performance against Mexico in the Opening Match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. When Bafana Bafana take on Uruguay on Wednesday in their second Group A encounter, the boy from Ventersdrop is ready for another bow on the world stage. And as he told FIFA.com, Khune believes the hosts can overcome the South Americans and advance to the knock-out stages of the competition.
The enthusiastic 22-year-old epitomises the South African spirit – always with a smile on his face, but ready to roll up his sleeves and get down to business if required. His optimism seemingly knows no bounds, and it is probably that which has carried him to a point where he is now being touted as one of the most exciting keepers in African football today. It is a title that comes with pressure and expectation, especially for one so young. But with some of the team's biggest hurdles yet to come, he believes that South Africa’s will to succeed will triumph over the tactical acumen of the Uruguayans.
"It doesn’t really matter who we meet, we have been working very hard on our game," he said. "We only want to do well in this competition - we owe our people that. As our coach has said, we respect everyone but we fear nobody, that is the spirit in our camp. Here in South Africa, we believe that nothing is impossible."
Growing up poor made me realise that when you get an opportunity, you need to grab it with both hands. To other people, that will sound overconfident, but it’s not. Football is my life, it’s my work.
Such words can only emanate from a person who has been groomed to be a pillar of strength for a side that are shouldering the expectations of 47 million of its people. "When we played Mexico, I couldn’t help but get emotional. It was touching to see our people like that. I’m young, I didn’t experience a lot of what happened in the past, but the truth is, I have seen the scars of what happened. It felt like we could do something to heal that, something to unite our people, that is why we have such strong will, the will to succeed," the Kaizer Chiefs No1 told FIFA.com during an exclusive interview.
Switching to the task now at hand, he said: "We have two games in our group, they are both very important. We respect both of them, but I know we can beat them. We played well against Mexico and we could have won the match, but it didn’t happen. Our goal is to go to the knock-out stages, and from there, anything can happen."
A dramatic realisation of his dreams
Talking about the realisation of dreams, Khune speaks with authority as he talks about his own rags to riches story. He is a boy from the impoverished township, Tshing near Rustenburg, who grew up in a shack with only one all-purpose room that the family used as a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and dining room. "Growing up poor made me realise that when you get an opportunity, you need to grab it with both hands. To other people, that will sound overconfident, but it’s not. Football is my life, it’s my work," he says. From a boy who slept on a railway station en route to Johannesburg to pursue his dreams, to a keeper who gained international recognition by saving David Villa’s penalty at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, Itumeleng Khune has come of age.
"When I came to Johannesburg, I slept at a train station, I was chasing my dream," he said. Growing up, he saw himself as a striker, but as fate had it, he was asked to stand in goals at one training session while with Kaizer Chiefs development. He wanted to score goals, but now his job is to prevent goals. Young, talented and enthusiastic, he has been one of South Africa’s star performers. He has learned a lot from former South African keepers and it is no surprise that he models his game on former Bafana and ex-Kaizer Chiefs teammate, Brian Baloyi.
He remembers the moment that potentially turned him to a superstar: "No doubt, that moment when I saved Villa’s penalty. Before that, people didn’t know me. It was a special moment for me and it gave me a lot of confidence." All of that self-belief was on display against the fluid Mexican attack, and Khune is hoping to repeat the performance against the two-time World Cup champions.