Bafana Bafana

EXCLUSIVE | 'Yeye' recalls role in Siphiwe Tshabalala's stunning 2010 Soccer World Cup opening goal

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Siphiwe Tshabalala and Reneilwe Letsholonyane (Getty Images)
Siphiwe Tshabalala and Reneilwe Letsholonyane (Getty Images)
  • South Africa hosted the first-ever African Soccer World Cup in 2010 after winning the rights in 2004.
  • Star midfielder Reneilwe "Yeye" Letsholonyane recalls the drive to the stadium before the opening match against Mexico.
  • Letsholonyane remembers making a key interception that led to Siphiwe Tshabalala's opening goal.

On 11 June 2010 - a Friday - the majority of South Africans woke up and began readying themselves for the start of Africa's first-ever Soccer World Cup.

Some were hoping to nab a place at the various nationwide fan zones to watch the opening match between Bafana Bafana and Mexico while others were already on their way to Soccer City to watch the opening ceremony before kick-off.

Bafana Bafana were mentored by seasoned Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira and were set to face some of the toughest football nations in Group A - France, Uruguay and Mexico.

Former Kaizer Chiefs star and a member of the Bafana Bafana 2010 Soccer World Cup squad, Reneilwe Letsholonyane was a part of the South African starting XI that day.

In an exclusive interview with Sport24, 'Yeye', as he is affectionately known, details what he remembers from that unforgettable day, even the drive in the team bus to the venue.

"We travelled towards the stadium and the roads… it was full, packed! You could sense that this big game was going to happen in a few hours," he says. 

"When we got to the stadium we got the chance to check out the field, and as we are walking out of the tunnel to inspect the pitch it wasn't that full yet because we were there two, three hours before the game. At that time, I was not nervous."

By the time kick-off came around, Soccer City - which cost approximately R3.3 billion to build - was at capacity with a 84 490-strong crowd filling the stands as the deafening sound of vuvuzelas buzzed like never before.

When the teams were about to walk out of the tunnel, Letsholonyane remembers having a sudden change in his emotions. He was nervous.

"It only hit me then. I realised it was time," he says. 

"People were singing the national anthem all together and it was so loud. I was looking around the whole stadium and it was packed.

"You could hear and feel how passionate people were about that game."

After a nervy display in the first half where Mexico netted a disallowed offsides goal, Bafana Bafana came out in the second stanza with real intent.

Nine minutes into the second half, Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the most talked-about goal of his career and one of the most important in South African football history and it was all courtesy of Letsholonyane's brilliant midfield work ethic.

"I intercepted the pass," Letsholonyane recalls of that famous moment in the 54th minute.

"I think I gave it to 'Schillo' (Steven Pienaar) and he gave it to Kagiso (Dikgacoi) and then Kagiso played it through to Shabba to finish it off."

Letsholonyane then veers off to explain in detail how Parreira and the coaching staff trained the players for that particular match.

"They (Mexico) had good players and technically, they were well structured. When we defended, we needed to be very compact, organised, and disciplined," Yeye, who is now 37-years-old, playing for Highlands Park in the Absa Premiership, says. 

"When Mexico attacked, we needed to move together and try to close all the small spaces they wanted to play in. And when we got the ball, we knew that we had Shabba on the left, we had Teko (Modise) on the right, we had Katlego (Mphela) as a striker and behind him we had Schillo.

"So, we knew that if we had the ball and played it out quicker to the side, we had players that can deal with them one-on-one, dribble past them and hopefully assist or score themselves."

Mexico equalised 12 minutes from stoppage time, forcing South Africa to hold on for an important 1-1 draw, which could have ended in a defeat for the host nation if it was not for the heroics of Itumeleng Khune between the goal posts.

Less than two weeks later, Bafana Bafana were knocked out of the tournament after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Uruguay and in the final group match they salvaged a 2-1 win over France which was not enough for a place in the Round of 16.

Despite all of that, Tshabalala's goal still rings loud and proud in the minds and hearts of many South Africans today.

Bafana Bafana starting XI that faced Mexico: Khune, Gaxa, Mokoena, Khumalo, Thwala, Tshabalala, Dikgacoi, Letsholonyane, Modise, Pienaar, Mphela.

Substitutes: Josephs, Masilela, Ngcongca, Sibaya, Davids, Booth, Parker, Nomvethe, Moriri, Sangweni, Walters, Khuboni. 

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