David Esposto
90 Minutes Soccer

As the vuvuzelas hummed and the crowd roared, the opening match of the 2010 World Cup was more than just a football match. It was a sign of liberation, of hard work and dedication finally paying off for a country rattled by political conflict and racial segregation.

But while the anticipation built and the world waited for the tournament, sombre and sad news would overshadow the celebration. The great-granddaughter of national hero and icon Nelson Mandala was killed in a car accident, sending the country into mourning. But as a backdrop of pain and sorrow threatened to dampen the mood, this was finally their chance to shine, and to show the world that South Africa was a more than suitable venue to showcase the world and the beautiful game.

As 84,000 fans gathered into Johannesburg’s Soccer City, the years of preparation had finally come to an end. South Africa would kick off against Mexico in the opening match. As the teams lined up, this momentous occasion would be felt by more than just a football supporter, but everyone in the world. As the game progressed and many believed that the South Africans would come out dull, they would once again be proved wrong. The resilience of a side destined to once again prove the world wrong would finally have their moment of football brilliance. After a less than exciting first half of football, history would be made at 55 minutes.

With no indication that a goal was on the horizon, 25-year-old Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala attacked the Mexican goal with vigor and pace as he unleashed a powerful left footed strike into the top right corner of Mexican keeper Óscar Pérez’s net. 1-0 South Africa. The goal would not become just an early favorite for goal of the the tournament, but would now make the Soweto native a hero.

“The goal was a great one and I am happy to have been in the position to score it,” Tshabalala told Goal.com. “I didn’t have to think, the chance came and I took it. I am happy about the goal and I want to score more.”

If the goal was memorable, the celebration afterwards will surely not be forgotten. Like Senegal in 2002, the African’s gathered together for a dance, as five players lined up and saluted the goal which will forever remain in the psyche of the country’s supporters. But as fans celebrated and hoped for the final whistle to blow, Mexico drove forward and would equalize 11 minutes from time as slack defending allowed defender Rafael Marquez a clear shot at goal, which he slotted into the back of the net.

For a match with little to cheer about in the first half, the game was thought to end anti-climatically, but as they say, football is a game of two halves. And while Marquez’s goal did change the complexion of the match, the emotion and energy running through the fans at Soccer City and the millions watching around the world could not be taken away.

“We played very well and we still have two games to go,” the South Africa captain, Aaron Mokoena, said. “There’s no use dwelling on what might have been, it’s all about South Africa building from this.”

Now that opening day nerves have subsided, confidence is rising. With the 0-0 stalemate between Uruguay and France, Group A is now wide open. At the beginning, many would have never given South Africa much credit, but don’t tell them that. The World Cup is bound to surprise, and the Bafana Bafana want to prove they’re more than just hosts, they want to show the world that they’re for real, and they are.

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