The 2010 World Cup consumed essentially every aspect of our lives. South Africa would host the biggest spectacle our planet has to offer — 3.2-billion scrutinising eyes pinned on our young democracy. At stake was far more than glory on a football pitch: it was our moment to advertise our country to a global audience, show off how far we had come since entering the international arena once again. Then, just as soon as it arrived, it was all over.
With the memories still so vivid, it feels surreal to think that June will mark 10 years since Bafana first kicked things off in Soccer City. To commemorate that milestone, the Mail & Guardian is taking a retrospective look at the grand moment through the eyes of those who were involved, on and off the field. Along the way, we try to answer an almost impossible question: what legacy did the 2010 World Cup leave behind?
Part 1: The goal that shook the world
It’s one of the greatest goals the World Cup has ever seen: an extraordinary clash of circumstance, decisive teamwork and immaculate technique.
More than 80 000 expectant fans had packed into a redeveloped Soccer City to watch Bafana Bafana and Mexico open the first World Cup on African soil. After years of tireless planning and anxious anticipation, the moment had finally arrived. All eyes were on the hosts: would the perennial underachievers stumble under the world’s gaze?
After 55 minutes of tight, albeit entertaining, football, the suffocating suspense was mercifully drained from the Calabash. Five seconds was all it took to turn a routine interception into a neat midfield triangle and a sublimely weighted through-ball from Teko Modise.
Siphiwe Tshabalala, raring down the left, latched onto it. He took one touch into his path before fiercely unleashing with his in-step. Despite the visible uncertainty of the Mexican keeper, the acute angle was such that nothing but an immediate, precise drive into the top far corner would likely have been good enough.
That the Kaizer Chiefs winger was able to find the opening without hesitating is perhaps the most remarkable thing about the goal. It was that rare moment when intelligence meets pure force of will. Nine times out of ten, the ball sails over the crossbar and we never talk about it again.
“There was not much time to think because the speed on the ball was very fast and I was going fast as well,” Tshabalala recalls now, a decade later. “But I knew that the keeper was off his line. At first I thought of just lobbing it over, but on second thought I just unleashed a powerful shot. I connected well with the ball, the technique was perfect … everything was perfect.
“It united the people. People celebrated ― they were happy because of that goal. Even now, it’s still spoken about.”
Those not fortunate enough to witness the strike live at the stadium were still treated to a Peter Drury monologue that has gone down amongst his most renowned.
“Tshabalalaaa!” he screamed in a pronunciation not as half-arsed as the usual fare from his British colleagues. “Goal, Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa. Goal for all Africa. Jabulela, rejoice.”
Co-commentator Jim Beglin, who had a bit more trouble with “Shabagalala”, enthused that if Brazil had produced that sort of ruthless passing we’d be “raving about it for ages”. He’s not wrong ― that is the type of football we’d expect from the very best in the world. Thanks to the goal, we were in their bracket, if only for a moment.
After wheeling away from a stunned Mexican defence, and with adrenaline surely surging through his body, Tshabalala still found the composure to join his teammates on the touchline for what would become a famous, and much replicated, celebration.
“It was bound to happen. The confidence was there, the belief was there,” he says. “Even before the game I knew if I was to score, this is the celebration. Hence everything just happened as though it was planned. We used to practice the celebration in training. We knew that moment was going to come.”
Sadly, the ending to the game ― and indeed the rest of South Africa’s tournament run ― felt rather anticlimactic after the crescendo of that goal. The equaliser was as sloppy as the opener was spectacular but was enough to earn Mexico a draw ― a result that would be telling as Bafana were eliminated from the group stage on goal difference. (More on that in the next part of this series).
Tshabalala himself would remain at Kaizer Chiefs for another eight years ― winning the PSL twice ― before making the move overseas relatively late in his career to BB Erzurumspor in Turkey. He is now clubless after the side were relegated last year but, at 35, is not ready to flick the kill switch on his playing days just yet. Whatever he is still able to achieve, it’s unlikely it will eclipse that historic day in Soweto.
“I’ve scored so many beautiful goals, important goals, from childhood until today, but that one will always stand out. Because the world was watching, the stakes were high ― it was a big moment for South Africa and Africans. It will always be the best and one for the archives. “Not only for me, for football. It was voted among the best goals of the decade. People still talk about it. Just today someone texted me about the goal,” he says.