Kaizer Chiefs' young and talented goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune is definitely walking tall after achieving so much in such a short space of time in local professional soccer.
Khune was the driving force behind Chiefs' breathtaking win over defending league champions Mamelodi Sundowns in the Telkom Knockout final.
He won several awards along the way. He walked away with the Jet Rookie of the Month; the Goalkeeper and Player of the Tournament awards.
Khune, who has played for the Under-20 and Under-23 national sides, has graduated to a higher level and is now in the Ghana-bound Bafana Bafana squad that will take part in the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations which starts on January 20 and runs until February 10.
The young shot-stopper has only been with Chiefs' senior team for three months.
This is not the first time that Khune has outshone his opponents. He has already won three Man of the Match awards leading to the Jet Rookie of the Month for November recognition.
"My dream is now becoming a reality. I had been on the bench for a few seasons. Since the new coach started playing me, I have collected a number of medals, the most memorable being the Jet Club PSL Rookie of the Month," said Khune, who was promoted to the senior team from Chiefs' development structures back in 2004.
Ironically, Khune played as a defender when his father, Elias, brought him to Chiefs development back in 1999. He later became a striker, a position he did not play in for too long.
He was then converted to a goalkeeper by the club's then development coach, Jacob "Terror" Sephooa.
"I used to bang in goals week in and week out as a striker, but stomach cramps, which have been troubling me since childhood, left Sephooa with no choice but to convert me to a goalkeeper," recalled Khune.
Khune, who has 11 caps with the national Under-20 and 15 with the U-23s, played in his first official league derby between Chiefs and Orlando Pirates recently.
The derby was watched by Fifa officials and hundreds of journalists and scouts, who were in the country for the 2010 World Cup preliminary draw in Durban
"That game was televised in many European countries and it gave the players a lot of international exposure," Khune said.
"I played my part in the Olympic team and I am now eyeing a place in the senior team, especially the team which will be heading for Ghana for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations."
Khune also thanked Chiefs' goalkeeper coach Rainer Dinkerlar for supporting and encouraging him in the past three years which he spent either on the bench or in the grandstands.
Here, he speaks to Meshack Motloung .
MM: The Telkom Knockout being your first cup final, what did you think when the game went into a penalty shootout?
IK: I told myself that from the five shots I must save two.
MM: Itumeleng, how did you feel when you stopped three spotkicksfrom Sundowns players?
IK: I was delighted because it was my first season in top flight football and also in a cup final.
MM: What motivated you to perform above yourself?
IK: My teammates, the crowd and the will to win.
MM: What was going through your mind after winning?
IK: I told myself that I had achieved my feat and I was very happy.
MM: Where do you see yourself in the next five seasons?
IK: I want to see myself playing overseas, but my priority at the moment is to concentrate at home and win trophies with Chiefs before I make any move.
MM: When did you qualify for the first team?
IK: I graduated to the first team in 2004 and since then I have been in the shadow of top goalkeepers such as Brian Baloyi and Rowen Fernandez.
MM: When did you get the opportunity to play in the first team?
IK: I got the opportunity this season when coach Muhsin Ertugral joined the side.
MM: How many games have you played?
IK: I have played about nine games, six league and three cup encounters.
MM: Who spotted you?
IK: My dad, Elias, who bought me football boots and told me that he was taking me to trials that were being conducted by Jomo Cosmos Football Club. But I was amazed when he took me to Chiefs instead.
MM: Were you a goalkeeper when you went for trials at Chiefs?
IK: Oh no, I was a defender and later a striker. It was at Chiefs where I was later converted into a goalkeeper by Jacob "Terror" Sephooa, probably after realising my potential.
MM: How did you feel being in the Chiefs fold, one of the most glamorous clubs in the country?
IK: I felt great and told myself that I had to face the challenges ahead. Because I did not want to be a loser, because back home I was going to be a laughing stock among my peers.
MM: What has been your aim in life?
IK: To be among the best goalkeepers in the country and to represent my country at a World Cup.
MM: What is it like to play in the Chiefs first team?
IK: Playing alongside the big names is something great and that has motivated me.
MM: The Telkom Knockout awards you won are not the first. What are the others?
IK: I won the Jet Club Rookie of the Month for November and hope to carry on where I left off after last Saturday's cup encounter.