When world football supremo Sepp Blatter implored the South African national team to ”wake up” after poor results last year, he could not have been referring to Sibusiso Zuma.
The 32-year-old ”elder statesman” of Bafana Bafana is laid back off the pitch with his dyed blonde hair, cutting-edge fashion and an iPod never far from his ears.
But only last weekend Zuma demonstrated again that he is razor sharp when it comes to putting the ball in the net, hitting the second-half goal that signalled the beginning of the end for Mozambique in a Nations Cup warm-up.
It was a simple goal. A pass from midfield to Zuma on the edge of the penalty area and, in a flash, he turned and unleashed a left-foot shot that flew across the goalkeeper and landed in the far corner.
It was also a special goal as it came on his 60th appearance for his country and in Durban, the Indian Ocean city where he grew up and made his professional football debut with African Wanderers.
As the goals flowed at club level, there were moves to much more glamorous Johannesburg-based Orlando Pirates and FC Copenhagen of Denmark before Zuma arrived at his current home, Bundesliga club Arminia Bielefeld.
He made his Bafana debut 10 years ago as a substitute for then national hero Benni McCarthy, but it took a long time and several coaches before he was accepted as a first choice.
Carlos Queiroz, now assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, saw the potential and Zuma flourished under the Mozambique-born coach, who was sacked after a 2002 Nations Cup quarterfinals defeat by hosts Mali.
Replacement Jomo Sono dumped and then recalled Zuma, who performed at the 2002 World Cup where South Africa made a first-round exit despite holding Paraguay and defeating Slovenia.
This tournament marked a summit for South African football as they failed to get past the first round in the 2004 and 2006 Nations Cup tournaments, with the latter a personal disaster for Zuma.
He captained a raw, ill-prepared squad that lost to Guinea, Tunisia and Zambia in Egypt without scoring a goal. The African champions of 1996 had become the African chumps of 2006.
Zuma struck four of the 10 goals that took South Africa to Ghana, although only as one of the best three runners-up after Zambia snatched top spot in Group 10 on the head-to-head rule thanks to a stunning 3-1 triumph in Cape Town.
There is widespread belief among South Africans that the team can regain some pride in Ghana although Angola, Senegal and 2004 champions Tunisia complete a tough Group D in the northern town of Tamale.
South Africa have struggled to score for several years and the form and fitness of often injured Zuma will be vital if South Africa are to achieve the minimum goal set by the national association of a place among the last eight. — Sapa-AFP