What Happened To Siphiwe Tshabalala: The Man Who Shocked The World At The 2010 World Cup
"GOAL BAFANA BAFANA!
"GOAL FOR SOUTH AFRICA!
"GOAL FOR ALL AFRICA!""
With the unmistakable sound of Peter Drury's commentary still fresh in his memory, Siphiwe Tshabalala sits back in his chair and delivers a trademark smile.
It has been 10 years since that life-changing moment in Johannesburg and here we are, watching the greatest moment of his career on a Zoom call.
"People still talk about how much of an impact this goal has on them," he tells SPORTbible from his home in South Africa.
"People across the world still give me love. I'm just grateful that I've touched lives through my god-given talent. It gave people hope. It united a nation."
It remains one of the most memorable World Cup moments in recent memory.
On June 11 2010, in the 54th minute of South Africa's eagerly anticipated opener against Mexico, the 94,000-capacity Soccer City stadium erupted into a chorus of Vuvuzela-inspired noise.
"It's the goal that set the tone. It brought everyone together. Everyone rejoiced. Everyone was happy. There were lots of hugs and kisses in the stadium. It was just amazing," Tshabalala recalls.
After a tense first half of few chances the Soweto-born midfielder flung his trusty left boot at a perfectly weighted, defence-splitting, 40-yard through ball from teammate Kagisho Dikgacoi.
"As soon as the ball left my boot, I knew it was going in," he confidently tells us, just days before the 10-year anniversary.
"It was crazy. It was brilliant. It was emotional. But it also took me back to when I was a little child - full of dreams, wanting to play on the big stage and years later, I'm scoring as the world watches.
"It was such a big moment for me, South Africa and the world at large."
Seconds after finding the top corner, Tshabalala ran towards the capacity crowd with his arms aloft and famously performed a choreographed celebration alongside his teammates.
"Jabulile! Rejoice!" said a taken aback Drury on commentary. "Bafana Bafana have popped the first cork of their day of days!"
The Macarena-style dance was in full swing, led by the man who was convinced he'd score against the Mexicans weeks prior.
"I did it (the dance) because I was positive," he explains "I knew I would definitely score. Hence the celebration. It was perfect. The coordination and timing. Everything. I'm a confident guy. I believe in myself. I believe in my talent."
The sheer magnitude of the occasion was overwhelming for some.
Expectation was naturally high and, when met with the wall of noise from the capacity crowd that day, a number of South African players were visibly touched by the atmosphere.
"I remember when we went on to the pitch and the guys were so emotional. You could see in their eyes that they wanted to cry. It was such a proud moment, to be there and to be part of it."
He had scored on the biggest of stages in the most extraordinary of circumstances but in a heartbreaking twist, Tshabalala's wonder goal was cancelled out by veteran defender Rafael Marquez, who evened things up with 11 minutes to go after calmly knocking it past South Africa's shot-stopper Itumeleng Khune.
It could have been worse but looking back, that game was so pivotal.
South Africa went on to lose against Uruguay and despite a historic 2-1 victory over former winners France, Carlos Alberto Parreira's side failed to qualify on goal difference.
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"I still feel that we should have won by two goals against Mexico. I had a one-on-one chance. We were at our best but it wasn't good enough." Tshabalala says.
Despite the disappointment of an early exit from the tournament, Tshabalala, who was playing his club football for South African Premier Division side Kaizer Chiefs, impressed throughout the group stages.
In fact, a number of clubs were keen on his signature. French giants Paris Saint-Germain expressed their interest through a certain Arsene Wenger, and offers were on the table.
Ten years on, Tshabalala openly admits he wanted to make the step up.
"Obviously after the World Cup, I hoped of a big move abroad." he said.
"There were offers. I was very confident they would happen. I even bumped into Arsene Wenger at the World Cup during a photo shoot at one of the hotels. He said great things about me and told me about interest from PSG.
"He wished me well. To get such kind words like that, from a world-class coach, was great."
It didn't take long for several English clubs to express their interest too.
Championship side Nottingham Forest handed him a trial, as did Premier League outfit Crystal Palace, who were particularly interested but things didn't go to plan, despite impressing during a short stint at Selhurst Park.
"I did enjoy myself at Palace and I impressed everyone. It was just unfortunate that I couldn't sign. It was beyond my control," Tshabalala says.
"There were administration problems. I was told that the transfer fee was too much and they couldn't agree on a deal. It was a great opportunity for me to establish myself abroad and I thought I would have done well because of my experience, playing for the national team against top countries.
"I was ready. I wouldn't have struggled."
After a number of trials in England, Tshabalala returned to the Kaizer Chiefs and spent a further eight years at the club, becoming their most capped player of all time.
The dream was always to play for Arsenal, though. "They were my favourite club," he says.
"As a youngster I played for a team called Phiri Arsenal and Thierry Henry was my favourite player. So I would have loved to play for The Gunners."
Tshabalala made the difficult decision of leaving South Africa in 2018 after 11 successful years with The Chiefs, opting to join Turkish side BB Erzurumspor, where he made just 17 appearances before departing a year later following the club's Super Lig relegation.
Now, aged 35, the midfielder is without a club, although a move to China looks to be on the horizon.
"After my spell in Turkey, I came back home and picked up an injury." he says. "I eventually recovered and there was huge interest from clubs around Europe and in Asia. I was actually preparing to go to China in January. Everything was ready but the coronavirus happened and things were put on hold.
"Being in lockdown since March has been hectic, not just for me but for the world. I'm at home at the moment, keeping fit. I'll make a decision once everything is better."
Away from the pitch, Tshabalala is giving back to the community. He delivers food parcels to those in need, and is hoping to provide children with a book inspired by his own journey.
"Through my foundation we have been helping a lot of people in South Africa since lockdown with food, blankets and masks," he says.
"I'll also be launching my book for kids. It's a story about a boy chasing his dreams. He eventually gets an opportunity and scores the biggest goal in the world. He's called 'Super Shabba'.
"I just want to inspire and give these young people hope - to make them feel part of our history even though they weren't there.
"I want to continue the legacy and keep the dream alive."
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