Zakhele Lepasa scored the only goal of the game as that sealed a win for TS Galaxy in the Nedbank Cup final. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
It will take something special for Zakhele Lepasa to eclipse the weekend he had last week. But such is his talent and dedication, nights like last Saturday and Sunday will be a regular occurrence for the 22-year-old who forced South Africa to take note of his talent.

The Orlando Pirates forward, who was on loan at National First Division side TS Galaxy, almost drowned in anonymity as he couldn’t break into the Buccaneers’ first team. He also struggled at Stellenbosch, where he competed with the NFD’s top goalscorer, Iqraam Rayners.

Lepasa returned to his parent club at the halfway mark of the season and in January was loaned to the Rockets after needing only a week to impress. He shot for the stars at TS Galaxy, especially in the Nedbank Cup where he finished as the top goalscorer.

Last Saturday, Lepasa came off the bench to score the goal that gave Galaxy the Nedbank Cup, and in the process made history as the first NFD team to win the country’s premier cup competition.

The following night he was named the Nedbank Cup’s Player of the Tournament at the Premier Soccer League awards.

“There was a time when I wasn’t even rated,” Lepasa said.

“There was a time I wasn’t regarded as one of the upcoming stars in South Africa. It took self-belief, hard work and a lot of sacrifices to get here.”

Lepasa was still trying to make sense of the “crazy” weekend he had when his life was further shaken by his call-up to the Bafana Bafana team that will play in the Cosafa Cup.

The tournament is a good audition for Lepasa to sneak into the under-23 national team that’s aiming for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

David Notoane, the under-23 coach, will manage the Bafana side and will keep a close eye on the lad from Snake Park in Soweto.

“You need to know where you come from to go where you want to go,” Lepasa said.

“With all the negativity that comes with Snake Park, if there’s one thing those people love, it’s football. I grew up playing there, it gets really full. I used to do a lot of great stuff there and people encouraged me. They believed in me. The love they showered me with was motivation for me to do well in the final.

“It was no longer just about me, I needed to do well for a lot of people. I needed to do it for Snake Park.”

Lepasa isn’t the finished product, something Pirates will be mindful of when he returns to the club for pre-season. There’s still a lot to learn, like playing for the team and not getting carried away by the hype, like Galaxy coach Dan Malesela warned.

There are positive attributes. During the chaos that ensued when Galaxy earned a penalty in optional time against Kaizer Chiefs, he took a breather with his bench so that he was composed when he had to take the crucial spot-kick. He learned that skill from kasi tournaments where he cut his teeth before growing further in the Buccaneers development.

“I am a striker, I love to score,” Lepasa said. “I know that there is always going to be pressure. Playing ekasi, we all wanted to be famous because we knew someone from ekasi who was famous, and they were living a good life.

“But it comes with a lot of pressure. If you want to be that person, you have to be able to handle pressure. Even in those games, like Kwa-Mahlobo, if you score and there are 10,000 people - the following day there will be 15,000 people. The extra 5000 would have been told by the other 10,000 that there is this player, he delivers, and they will be betting on you to do well. That’s pressure.

“If you don’t perform in those games, they are going to come onto the field and give you a piece of their mind. You need to be able to handle such things to succeed.”

Sunday Independent

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