JOHANNESBURG - Siphiwe Tshabalala's left foot thunderbolt rocketed his name into international football's conscientiousness with an impressive individual performance on the first day of the World Cup.
"The greatest goal and game of my career," the dreadlocked South African winger said of his strike in the 1-1 draw with Mexico at Johannesburg's Soccer City that marked the start of the month-long 64-game tournament.
His eighth goal for his country continued a run of spectacular finishes in national team colours over the last years, including bending free kicks which have become his speciality.
It contrasts with a disappointing club season for Tshabalala, whose bid for a World Cup squad place seemed to distract from his performances at the country's most popular club Kaizer Chiefs.
But his pace, balance on the ball and tricky skills have made Tshabalala a firm favourite of South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who has started him in each of their 13 matches he has taken charge of since returning to the job last November.
"I was very, very delighted scoring the first goal of the World Cup on home soil in front of thousands of our supporters.
"It was my 50th cap, it was the best present for me and I'm really happy," he told Reuters as South Africa's team enjoyed a day off on Saturday.
"Coming into the game I've been doing well but I feel I can still do better," said the 25-year-old, who will now hold out hopes of attracting attention from European clubs.
He had been linked with a possible move to Turkey last year but intense local media speculation proved just that.
Earlier in the week, Tshabalala told a news conference of his roots growing up playing street football in Soweto, starting at the age of eight.
"It was always my dream to make it in football and to play for Chiefs. I'm glad I have achieved that. Now you can't believe how grateful I am to be able to play in the World Cup."
Tshabalala said he was confident of qualification for South Africa past the first round, despite drawing with the Mexicans and looking particularly vulnerable at times.
"It's very possible to qualify. We showed that with hard work and determination, we can score goals. Hopefully we'll be more relaxed in the next match."
South Africa next meet Uruguay on Wednesday in Pretoria and complete their Group A programme against favourites France in Bloemfontein on June 22.comments