A left foot strike that had fans cheering, hugging and blowing their vuvuzelas as seldom before. It was Siphiwe Tshabalala and the goal that kick-started the biggest sporting event in South African history.
The Bafana Bafana midfielder’s goal put the home nation a goal to the good against Mexico in the World Cup opener at Soccer City on June 11 and launched the country into a month-long celebration.
And what a year it was.
When the South Africa versus India Boxing Day cricket Test match ends on December 30, it will mark the close of what was arguably one of the most amazing years in South African – and KwaZulu-Natal – sporting history. Of course, the World Cup was the dominant spectacle. The planet’s best descended on South Africa for the world’s biggest single-sport event. Never before has the country – and Durban in particular – experienced the buzz and excitement that was around in June and July.
While Spain deservedly walked away with the World Cup trophy, it was South Africa as the host nation that was the biggest winner. As was the case with Germany four years earlier, the tournament changed perceptions of the country.
Crime was at its lowest ebb for many a year, cities were the cleanest they’ve ever been and the carnival-like atmosphere was simply outstanding. In fact, many once pessimistic locals wished the World Cup would have stuck around for a few more weeks.
Who can forget the pride when the national anthem was sung at Soccer City and Tshabalala’s goal? Yes, Bafana Bafana did bow out in the group stage – the first host country to do so – but that did not take away from what the country experienced for those four weeks.
Now the attention has shifted to the aftermath of the tournament, with question marks over whether the money spent on the event was worth it. Sustainability of the new stadiums has been questioned. In Durban’s case, the R3.6 billion Moses Mabhida Stadium complex will cost ratepayers about R25 million between its opening in November last year and the end of the financial year in June next year. This would have been considerably worse if not for the revenue-generating elements of the spectacular stadium, including the SkyCar, arch jump and retail centre. Uncertainty over how much the facility will cost ratepayers will continue well into next year after the KZN Rugby Union announced the Sharks would not be moved across the road from King’s Park.
The great action was not exclusively on the football field.
The Sharks provided one of the highlights of the year when they lifted the Currie Cup trophy in front of their home fans on October 30. It marked a remarkable year for the team who were in turmoil at the beginning of the year after five straight losses in the Super 14 tournament. But doubts over the team and its coaching staff quickly turned to cheers when the team went on a wonderfully consistent run through the Currie Cup, eventually beating Western Province 30-10 in the final.
The team’s success owed much to the rise of two of its young guns, Patrick Lambie and Lwazi Mvovo. Both showed skill and maturity beyond their years to lead the side to the title and earning well-deserved Springbok caps for the end of year tour to the United Kingdom. On that tour, Lambie scored his first points against Ireland with a penalty while Mvovo crashed through two English defenders to score his first try in the national colours.
2010 was also the year of the sporting individual, and again it was KZN players who shone.
Tongaat-born cricketer Hashim Amla had one of the most remarkable years on the world’s cricket pitches.
The humble batsman scored 1 000 runs in both Test and One Day International formats, climbing to the top of the ODI rankings and displacing teammate AB de Villiers in the process. He is now ranked 13th in Test cricket, but his rock-solid performances against Pakistan in the recently concluded two-match series should see him finish the year in the Top 10. He also walked away with five trophies at the SA Cricketer of the Years Awards.
It was a remarkable year too for swimming sensation Chad le Clos. The matric pupil won two gold medals to go with his single silver and bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games. A few days after the Games he sat for the first of his final exams.
This year also saw another South African winner of a golfing Major, when Louis Oosthuizen hoisted the Claret Jug after winning the Open in July. What did he do with his winnings? He bought a new tractor for his farm.
Given all that’s happened in 2010, it seems almost impossible that 2011 can match up. But fear not, there is hope.
The year starts with a T20 cricket clash between India and South Africa on January 9 at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. The match forms part of the celebrations of 150 years since the arrival of the first Indians in the country.
In February, the Proteas will then try to get rid of their “chokers” tag during the ICC Cricket World Cup on the Indian sub-continent – the first of the year’s two world cups.
The other is the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, where the Springboks will be hoping to forget about a poor 2010 by retaining the Webb Ellis Cup.
2011 will also be the year for The Sharks to try take their form and momentum into the new Super 15, where more derbies mean the team will fancy their chances. They will also fight to retain their Currie Cup crown. Given the strength in depth and the number of talented young players in the team, this is a distinct possibility.
Let’s hope 2011 is even half as epic as 2010.