Brooks: South Africa's 2010 team made me dream
Ethan Brooks, 19, is the youngest player in South Africa's squad
He was just nine when the FIFA World Cup™ was held in South Africa
A decade later, he is eager to feature in the finals in Qatar
More than ten years have now passed since the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Ten long years for Bafana Bafana and their supporters, with the national team having failed to reach Brazil 2014 or Russia 2018. As the wait stretches on, their only dream now is to return to the global finals again.
Ethan Brooks was one of those fans when the action unfolded on South African soil. Just nine years old at the time, he was fixated by the exploits of the home side and talents including Steven Pienaar, Bernard Parker, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, hoping one day to follow in their footsteps. Fast-forward to today and Brooks is a team-mate of Letsholonyane with club side Galaxy. Better yet, he is closing in on a ticket to Qatar 2022 with every passing week, having emerged as a fixture in the South Africa squad.
"I'm the proof that dreams can come true," he told FIFA.com. "As a child, I hoped to become a professional footballer and play at the highest level. "My greatest wish was to play alongside my idol Yeye Letsholonyane, and I managed to do it. That shows you mustn't put limits on your dreams, and now I'm daring to imagine being able to take part in the next World Cup."
If he succeeds in that goal too, he will have closed the circle at just 20 years of age. After all, it was the World Cup that first set Brooks on his career path, though he himself pinpoints an earlier date for the start of his love affair with the game. "I think I fell in love with football when I took my first shot around the age of five," he said, "but it's true that the World Cup definitely helped! It got me dreaming. I only have wonderful memories of that tournament. "I was even able to go to a few games. I saw Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, and that made me want to be in their place."
Unsurprisingly perhaps, his favourite memory of all remains the goal scored by Siphiwe Tshabalala in the Opening Match against Mexico. "It was magical," said Brooks. "Everyone in South Africa remembers where they were and what they were doing when that goal went in. It was historic. Me, I saw it on television at home with my family. That team made us dream."
Showdown with Ghana
That team is also long gone. No veterans of the 2010 World Cup adventure survive in the current South Africa squad. Instead, the likes of Teko Modice, Katlego Mphela and Aaron Mokoena have all made way for a new generation of gifted talents, such as Keagan Dolly, Percy Tau, Evidence Magkopa… and Brooks himself. "I feel good in this team," said the midfielder. "I see [my team-mates] as older brothers and I learn a huge amount from them."
Brooks now has six caps to his name, having recently appeared in a crucial encounter – the 1-0 defeat of Zimbabwe that sent Bafana Bafana three points clear of Ghana with one game to go in qualifying Group G. As fate would have it, that final fixture will bring them face to face with the Black Stars in Sunday's table-topping showdown. The same Black Stars, of course, who won the hearts of South Africa's fans when they reached the quarter-finals at the 2010 World Cup.