Itumeleng Khune’s showing against Brazil at the 2016 Olympic Games may have been one of the greatest moments of his career.
Certainly, memories of that outstanding showing against the hosts in Rio de Janeiro comes in stark contrast to King Khune’s plight in Saturday’s Caf Champions League final.
This fixture may well be one of the toughest moments of his career, as the one-club man had to watch on from the sidelines as Kaizer Chiefs faced Al-Ahly in the biggest match in African club football.
With Daniel Akpeyi picked as Amakhosi’s No. 1 by incoming coach Stuart Baxter, Khune was left on among the reserves, forced to experience the match as a bystander…it should have been one of the biggest games of his career.
Still only 34, Khune ought to still have many more years in the tank, but fitness and injury problems in recent years have dimmed his star at Chiefs, and have left him way down the pecking order under Baxter and his predecessor Arthur Zwane.
The stopper never made the move to Europe—to test himself at the highest level of competition—but here was a golden opportunity to become an African champion, and to help his beloved Chiefs follow in the footsteps of Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns to win the Champions League.
It passed him by.
It wasn’t the first time that Khune was absent for what should have been a major moment of his career; he was, of course, suspended for South Africa’s memorable 2-1 victory over France at the 2010 World Cup on home soil, having been sent off in the defeat by Uruguay.
Moeneeb Josephs—the beneficiary on that occasion—also had to step in for South Africa’s final African Nations Championship 2014 Group Stage game against Nigeria, where a 3-1 victory for the Super Eagles sent them into the knockouts.
Another big moment, another Khune absence, another opportunity gone.
One fixture where he did stand up and be counted, however, proving his quality in the truly big occasions, was South Africa’s meeting with hosts Brazil at the 2016 Olympics.
This was a star-studded Selecao side, gunning for the title and featuring the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, and Felipe Anderson.
In front of almost 70,000, they went all out to dispatch Bafana, who were reduced to 10 men with half an hour still to play following the dismissal of Mothobi Mvala for a second yellow card.
Brazil dominated the ball, enjoyed a slew of chances—many from corners—but never got closer than a Gabriel Jesus effort that touched off the post; Khune held firm and South Africa picked up a valuable point.
Ultimately, they failed to escape the group stage, but for the Chiefs No. 1, it’s a match that serves as a vivid reminder of just what he was capable of in his prime, and his capacity for rising to the big occasions.