Tshabalala gig in Sierra Leone

SOME got the name right - others wrong, but who cared. They were just happy to finally see their idol Siphiwe "Shabba" Tshabalala in person.

These were overzealous soccer fans at Lungi International Airport when Bafana Bafana arrived just after midnight on Saturday in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown for yesterday's 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Leone Stars at the National Stadium.

The fans, mostly employees at the airport, relived Tshabalala's 2010 Fifa World Cup opening goal against Mexico at Soccer City on June 11. That strike has endeared the dreadlocked Kaizer Chiefs linkman to many a soccer fan outside South Africa.

"Shabba is our hero and we are very excited to see him here in our country," said Alfred Dumbuya, 41, a policeman at the airport.

"We did not qualify for the World Cup but we were fully behind Bafana and African countries that made the tournament. My family and friends will not believe me when I tell them that I met Tshabalala in person. Please take a photo of me with him," he said excitedly.

Ibrahim Bangura, 28, a porter, was equally ecstatic: "I know the majority of Bafana Bafana players, but for me to see Shabba is special. He made us proud against Mexico when pessimists thought it would be a walk in the park for the Mexicans. Though I love Tshabalala and the rest of Bafana Bafana, I will root for my country on Sunday (yesterday). But I will not be disappointed when you guys win, though."

Gilbert Koroma, 37, said it was opportune for countries like his and South Africa to dominate African football. He said he believed Bafana have the gumption not only to reclaim their No 1 spot on the continent, but also to be a force to reckon with in world football. "There is a lot of talent in your country. I wish players like Tshabalala will be around in the next Word Cup to help Bafana fare well in Brazil (the host of the 2014 tournament). We will also be there."

Tshabalala, who smiled and greeted his admirers, told Sowetan afterwards that he was humbled by the reception from his fans in Sierra Leone.

NEWS EXTRA: STEVEN PIENAAR 'BANNED' - Click here to find out why




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