Khune key asset for Bafana – Igesund
South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune became a shot-stopper by accident and is now considered among the best on the continent ahead of the 2013 Cup of Nations.
Desperate to support his family financially, he moved from the North West town Tshing to Johannesburg, when only 12, for trials with popular and successful football club Kaizer Chiefs.
Fielded as a defender, the teenager developed chest problems during an age-limit trial and was ordered to stand beside a goalpost and become a ball boy.
As he dived spectacularly to block balls that missed the target, Khune caught the attention of a youth coach and a career that would take him to the national team had begun.
He was promoted to the first team squad and after a three-year wait got his chance when first choice Rowan Fernandez was transferred to a German Bundesliga club.
After making his debut against Jomo Cosmos at the start of the 2007-2008 South African Premiership, Khune quickly made the No 1 jersey his own and the Amakhosi (Chiefs) conceded only 19 goals in the 30-round league.
His international debut came less than a year later in a friendly against Zimbabwe and he has been the first choice since for Bafana Bafana, amid several coaching reshuffles.
Khune reserved his best form for Brazil, giving a couple of outstanding performances in narrow home and away losses against the record five-time world champions.
It took a spectacular Dani Alves goal off a free-kick three minutes from time to beat him in a 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup semifinal at a packed Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg.
Last September in Sao Paulo, Khune stood between a Bafana team under new coach Gordon Igesund and a hiding, pulling off one spectacular stop after another before Hulk struck a late winner.
But the star, seen regularly on South African TV advertising fried chicken and shoe polish, has less fond memories of another South American nation – Uruguay – having been sent off against them in a 2010 World Cup group game.
Uruguay converted the resultant penalty en route to a 3-0 win and South Africa became the first World Cup hosts not to reach the second round since the competition was introduced 80 years before.
Igesund picks out the distribution of 25-year-old Khune as a key asset for Bafana, who face debutants Cape Verde Islands, Angola and former champions Morocco in the first round.
“The distribution of Itumeleng Khune is phenomenal. He can initiate attacks with incredibly accurate throws and goal kicks,” he told reporters after a training session.”
Despite inevitable dips in form, Khune has held off various challengers, including Moeneeb Josephs from fierce domestic rivals Orlando Pirates, and he is set to play a leading role at the Africa Cup.
As a child, Itumeleng preferred cricket to football, idolising former Protea Nicky Boje, but with his miner father the only breadwinner, he opted for the more profitable football route to sporting fame.