I look up to see the ref on the screen giving one of the Dutch players a yellow card. I get back up on to my feet and test my ankle. It’s painful but I think back to what the Professor had said to me – that I have to want success enough to overcome any obstacles.
“Nice try,” I shout to the crowd, “but township players are tougher than the Spanish!”
The crowd laughs and applauds as I walk off the pain.
The Dutch player gets booked but Khaya, unfortunately, gets away with conceding a free kick.
I take the kick, playing it long to Rose who powers a volley past The Leopards’ goalie.
The game restarts and brutal play by the Leopards gets them a clear shot on goal, which Khaya chips into the corner of the net making it 1-1.
I look up at the scoreboard. Khaya and I are tying as top-scorers. On the big screen Heittinga is getting a red card. I suspect that it’s the beginning of the end for the Dutch. I wish the English World Cup ref could be judging our street game too – Khaya would have been sent off for sure. If Khaya scores again he’ll be the top-scorer and the Leopards will win.
The game continues like the Spanish-Holland clash – lots of tactical work but no more goals. Soon there’s only a minute left to play. Unlike professional soccer, there’s no extra time – a draw now will mean a penalty shoot-out. I really don’t like the odds of winning a shootout against the Leopards. I decide to make one last run for it!
I make it past the Leopards midfield, but Khaya has me marked and I’m brought down by another crushing tackle in the box. The ref blows his whistle. It’s a penalty!
My heart is racing as I line up to take it. The Leopards’ goalie flexes his fingers and stands ready.
“One, two, three, four …,” I whisper to myself, “Just listen to the beat.”
I run up and fire it into the top left hand corner. The goalie dives and his fingers touch the ball but it isn’t enough. Laduuuuma!
The whistle blows for the end of the game. 2-1 to the Dynamites with me as the top-scorer! My teammates gather round and start chanting and the crowd joins in. I can’t make out what they’re saying at first, but then I realize what they’re shouting – “Gold, Gold, Gold!”
“It’s your nickname,” the Professor hollers to me from the sidelines.
I run over to hug him.
“But why ‘Gold’?” I ask, confused.
“You’re as good a player as your father was, but you’re even more valuable. That’s why I suggested they call you gold,” he says, “Your team know about Mr. Thobela trying to bribe you. Now they know that you’re with them no matter what.”
The crowd blows their vuvuzelas as ‘Nathi “Gold”‘ is written at the top of the scoreboard. Then we all turn to watch the rest of the World Cup final.
We all cheer together as Iniesta receives a pass and strikes the ball in to win it for the Spanish.
We’re celebrating as Mr. Khumalo comes over to shake my hand.
“Nathi,” Mr. Khumalo says, “this is Mr. Naidoo. He’s a talent scout for a professional street-soccer league, and he’s interested in having you on his team…”
Image: Antonio Martinez, CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0