Itumeleng Khune

Itumeleng Khune stopping a goal. Photo courtesy <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/articularnos/4695326086/'>Articularnos.com</a>

Itumeleng Khune stopping a goal. Photo courtesy Articularnos.com

Golden goalie

Itumeleng “Spider Kid” Khune is one of South Africa’s top soccer stars and goalkeeper for Soweto-based Kaizer Chiefs, as well as for the national side, Bafana Bafana. The 1.8m (6ft) footballer, who has been voted the third best Kaizer Chiefs player of all time by readers of Amakhosi fan magazine, is a recognised soccer star –  at the age of just 23.

Khune was born in the small North West town of Tshing, near Ventersdorp, on June 20, 1987. Unlike many of South Africa’s footballers, he did not originally dream of making a name for himself on the football field, preferring cricket. However, he later set his sights on a soccer career in an effort to boost his family’s income.

Khune’s career with Kaizer Chiefs began in 1999, when he tried out for the Premier Soccer League (PSL) franchise’s junior side, playing in defence. After experiencing chest problems during a game, he was downgraded to the position of ball boy – a decision that was to uncover his knack for goalkeeping. While diving to stop off-target shots, Khune caught the attention of Kaizer Chiefs youth coach, Terror Sephoa, who moved the talented young player into the position of goalkeeper.

Though Khune was promoted to Amakhosi’s first-string side in 2004, he was only to take to the field for Chiefs in the 2007/2008 season, when goalkeeper Rowen Fernández transferred to German club Arminia Bielefeldand number two goalie Emile Baron was plagued by injuries. He made his PSL debut on August 25, 2007 against Joburg-based Jomo Cosmos.

Khune had a successful first season with Amakhosi’s first team, earning himself a number of individual awards; in conceding only 19 goals in 30 games, he played a central role in Chiefs’ top defensive position in the league.

In 2008, after sitting on the bench during the 2008 African Nations Cup, Khune made his international debut against Zimbabwe. He went on to become then Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana’s preferred goalkeeper and was later selected as World Cup coach Carlos Alberto Parreira’s first-choice goalie for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

Khune acquitted himself admirably in the World Cup opening match against Mexico. However, on June 16, 2010 – in the 77th minute of the Bafana Bafana-Uruguay match – he was red-carded under controversial circumstances when Luis Suárez appeared to dive inside the penalty area. He became the second goalkeeper in World Cup history to be sent off, joining Gianluca Pagliuca, who was shown the referee’s red card in 1994.

As a result of his transgression, Khune missed South Africa’s final group game against France, which saw Moneeb Josephs in the goalkeeper’s jersey in a game that Bafana Bafana won 2-1. Unfortunately, this was not enough to prevent South Africa’s first-round exit from the international tournament.

After the World Cup, Khune regained his number one spot in the national team and he subsequently kept three consecutive clean sheets in international matches.

Khune has worked hard to establish himself as a South African soccer star. He received the Absa Premiership Players’ Player Award, and was named PSL Goalkeeper of the Season for 2007/2008, as well as Goalkeeper of the Tournament and Player of the Tournament for the 2007 Telkom Knockout Challenge. He was also named Kaizer Chiefs Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season for 2007/2008.