Siphiwe Tshabalala: A World Cup icon amidst FIFA controversy

Zürich, 2004. FIFA chooses South Africa.

Egypt and Morocco’s World Cup 2010 bids trumped as South Africa gets the nod.

With the stage now decided, South Africa is set to bask in the spotlight of FIFA’s most celebrated major tournament, and play the role of host in the first African World Cup in history.

The sport’s biggest celebration of football will wash up on the shores of South Africa and line the streets with joyous passion.

The group stages of the World Cup was as far as the Bafana Bafana had accomplished in their two World Cup appearances. A third-place finish all they could muster in both France ’98 and Japan and South Korea ’02.

Uruguay and Mexico represent The Americas, while France flies the flag for Europe in Group A. The hosts faced a stern task ahead in a group where second place was up for grabs. The Europeans were positioned as firm favourites to progress to the knockouts.

Sharp-Shooting Siphiwe Tshabalala

Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium is packed to the rafters. Attributed to the buoyant atmosphere in South Africa’s largest city is a sea of yellow, and a deafening monotone drone from thousands of vuvuzela-wielding natives. A noise which would become synonymous at Africa’s inaugural World Cup.

The first 50 minutes of South Africa 2010 is a stalemate in a game which both sides would have earmarked as an opportunity to register three points.

The Mexicans sloppily lose possession on the 53rd-minute as South Africa’s centre half gets a leg in front of his man, diverting the ball into the path a yellow shirt. A number of passes in quick succession leads to a disjointed Mexico and Kigasho Dikcagoi finding three yards of space to the right of the centre-spot in Mexico’s half.

To Dikcagoi’s left, Siphiwe Tshabalala is building up a head of steam. The fleet-footed winger is in full flight as he sets his sights on Mexico’s eighteen-yard-box.

The ball is placed perfectly ahead of the South African who takes his first touch just outside of the area. Tshabalala has the weight of South Africa, the continent, and each and every football-lover, on his shoulders.

With aplomb, and surrounded by an air of almost arrogance, Tshabalala strikes the ball as it sits up perfectly for him. The type of connection that his younger-self would have played out in his wildest World Cup dreams.

With his left-foot, Tshabalala caresses the Adidas Jabulani, the official match-ball, across the keeper. The net rustles as the ball hits the top-right stanchion—the postage-stamp. The crowd descends into jubilant chaos.

Gallo Images

“Goal Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa! Goal for all Africa!”

Peter Drury

Those in attendance have seen their nation score the opening goal in a World Cup final. Those at home have witnessed one of the best opening World Cup goals of all-time.

Tshabalala has expertly etched his name into African folklore. An instantaneous icon to a generation of South Africans. The Bafana Bafana had arrived.

A Rafael Márquez inspired Mexican response was not enough to dampen spirits as the game came to a close at 1-1.

Life After Soccer City’s Wonderstrike

The dust and celebrations had only just settled five days later for South Africa’s second fixture. A plucky Uruguay side were next up for South Africa. A tougher task but one which the South African supporters were relishing.

A Diego Forlán brace and a 95th minute Álvaro Pereira finish saw the hosts enter their third and final game with one point. Forlán’s first from thirty-yards out was a thunderous looping-shot which corkscrewed mid-air and left Itumeleng Khune stranded. The South African keeper would later bring down Luis Suarez for a red card and Forlán’s second.

The next opponents, the French, had witnessed their struggles. A 0-0 draw against the Uruguayans, and a shattering 2-0 defeat to Mexico had them third in Group A. Sitting on the same points as the Africans, the team-sheet for the final game would include six new faces from the last, including France’s captain, Patrice Evra, dropped from the starting eleven.

Just shy of 40,000 football fans took their seats in Bloemfontein. They had unknowingly signed up for South Africa’s greatest World Cup display. On-paper, this was their most difficult fixture.

Tshabalala turns architect. Standing over the ball at a corner, he whips in an in-swinging cross met by Bongani Khumalo’s towering header. South Africa’s number 20 sends the crowd wild, almost as if he had single-handedly rewound time to the 53rd minute on match-day one.

Yoann Gourcuff’s elbow would typify Les Bleus‘ World Cup. The central midfielder contested an aerial duel in South Africa’s box where he led with his arm, catching Macbeth Sibaya with an elbow. The disgruntled Frenchman headed off the pitch looking as dejected as those at home in France.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa made headway with the one-man advantage 12 minutes later. Progressive play on the wing sees Tshabalala involved again. The ball is lashed across the six-yard box and bundled in by a willing recipient. Katlego Mphela puts the Africans up two goals to the good alongside France’s red card.

A Florent Malouda goal twenty minutes from time sets up a nervy end but one that the hosts see through. The final standings have South Africa in third on goal difference. It would be the Mexicans who progress. A cruel way to exit their own tournament.

South Africa achieved an unwelcome record as they became the first host nation of a World Cup to be struck off come the end of the group stages.

Ghana, however, were able to advance and was the only African nation to do so, reaching the round of 16.

The eventual winners, Spain, rounded the 2010 South African World Cup off at the Soccer City stadium. The same spot where Tshabalala allowed his nation to dream. Andres Iniesta scores the only goal of the game, four minutes before Howard Webb was set to blow for penalties.

CORRUPTION In FIFA

The dark side of football has reared its ugly head since Tshabalala’s goal. Nothing can take the memories of the tournament away from South African fans however it has been somewhat tainted.

Following US investigations into corruption within FIFA in 2013, South Africa’s name is left muddied to the sum of a $10m payment in 2008, four years after the successful World Cup bid.

General secretary of CONCACAF, Chuck Blazer, and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago were the two FIFA officials spearheading the link between South Africa’s World Cup bid and corruption at the highest level in football. Claims of which South Africa vehemently denies.

Warner, who was formerly president of CONCACAF, the footballing body which governs football in the Caribbean and North and Central America, was front and centre in terms of allegations made.

GETTY

The shady pair were both members of FIFA’s governing executive committee. Amongst the purposes of the committee, most notably in terms of the 2010 World Cup, was that it worked towards awarding the hosting rights for each World Cup.

South Africa claim there was no wrongdoing on their part and that the $10m payment sent to CONCACAF was arranged for a program to help Caribbean football.

The South Africans claim the money for the ‘Diaspora Legacy Programme’ was sent to develop football in that part of the world, however, the money allegedly only went as far as lining the pockets of already wealthy FIFA officials.

US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, named Warner in a 2015 indictment which had a total of nine FIFA officials in the spotlight. 

The US indictment alleged racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies towards Warner. Highlighted within the prosecution was the breakdown of the $10m payment: 

“On January 2, 2008, January 31, 2008, and March 7, 2008, a high-ranking Fifa official caused payments of $616,000, $1,600,000, and $7,784,000 – totalling $10m – to be wired from a Fifa account in Switzerland to a Bank of America correspondent account in New York for credit to accounts held in the names of CFU and Concacaf, but controlled by the defendant JACK WARNER, at Republic Bank in Trinidad and Tobago”.

The Trinidadian, who pleads his innocence, has endured a long appeal-laden fight against extradition to the US on corruption charges. 

Blazer, in comparison to Warner, took a different route. After working as a government informant for US authorities, the former FIFA man admitted such charges in a 2013 court hearing. Blazer reportedly attended meetings wearing a wire to harness information and assist authorities in building a compelling case.

The late Chuck Blazer, of the United States, led a lavish life. In Blazers personal blog http://chuckblazer.blogspot.com/?m=1  he can be seen rubbing shoulders in desirable circles. His blog documents occasions spent with Vladimir Putin, Miss Universe, President Clinton, Prince William, Nelson Mandela, and many more. It appears Blazer had wined and dined on FIFA’s money for the last time.

Chuck Blazer’s Blog

The judge in Blazer’s case, referred to Fifa as a:

“racketeering influenced corrupt organisation”

Raymond Dearie

Amongst the list of bribes that Blazer took, as stated in the indictment, was a $750,000 payment from South Africa.

In Blazer’s testimony, he went on record with the happenings surrounding the World Cup bid; “I and others on the Fifa executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup”.

Feature Image: Getty Images

Written by @SamIngram_