Cape Town – For Itumeleng Khune, last year was a rollercoaster ride of emotions and silverware.
It was a year he will probably remember for the extreme highs and the depressing lows.
It was a year when he shed tears of unbridled joy and agonising pain. It was a year he will never forget.
The painful part of the year was actually in the first half, with Bafana Bafana’s quarter-final exit against Mali on penalties in the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil and the team missing out on qualifying for this year’s World Cup in Brazil the real low-lights.
The second half of the year, though, seemed to be personally reserved for Khune, the goalkeeper leading Kaizer Chiefs to a league and cup double and walking away with most of the prizes on offer at the Premier Soccer League’s awards. Khune was then voted South African Sports Star of the Year, before capping off the year with a heroic performance to help Bafana beat world No1 Spain.
But what does this year have in store? How can he possibly top his achievements of last year? The answer is simple really – the Bafana captain wants to win some silverware with the national team and make South Africans smile.
“Last year was full of ups and downs for me and the national team,” Khune said on Thursday.
“We ended the old year really well by beating the world No1 side, and going into this year we just need to continue with that momentum and try to win every game. We have a lot of good players who are playing locally and abroad, which is giving the coach a ‘good’ headache. But we have to make his job easier by performing week-in and week-out.
“This is another big year for the national team, and if we get good results we will see how it unfolds. But it’s in our hands to make it a year to remember.”
Khune and Bafana’s programme starts on Saturday in the opening match of the African Nations Championship (Chan) against Mozambique at Cape Town Stadium (kick-off 6pm).
The win against Spain, when Khune was named Man of the Match, has seemingly given Bafana a timely boost going into the New Year, and leaving the memories of another failed qualifying campaign in the past.
But Mzansi’s No1 is not just going to remember the good times. Instead, he wants the lessons learnt in defeat to make the team even stronger going into Chan.
“Every year and game is a new challenge. In the past we haven’t found ourselves in a position to win tournaments we have hosted because we started slowly. But in this tournament we want to start really well,” he said. “We are hosting this competition, and it would be nice to give our people something to smile about.
“We are the hosts, we have a good squad and we have the support. But it won’t be easy, because there are a lot of good teams who qualified, so they deserve our respect. But we are hungry for success and we want to write our own history.”
There has been plenty of talk recently about this being the right time for Khune to make a move to one of the big leagues in Europe, with his agents in talks with German Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart about a possible trial for Khune. However, many people say the Kaizer Chiefs shot-stopper doesn’t need trials to prove his quality.
But the man himself doesn’t want to get involved in the debate, his focus is on Bafana’s preparations for Chan and his commitments to his beloved Amakhosi at the end of the tournament.
“It’s any player’s dream to play for the national team and to play in Europe in the big leagues,” Khune said.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s all about Bafana Bafana and Chiefs at the moment. I don’t want to entertain those thoughts now. When the right time comes I will go, but if it doesn’t come I will continue to work hard and keep doing what I have done over the last few years.
“I can’t wait for my first game of the season, and I just have to continue to get better and better, because I’m still maturing as a goalkeeper, as a player and as a human being.”
Khune still impoving? A scary thought. Almost as scary as a roller-coaster.