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Masuluke’s trip of a lifetime

  • Oscar Masuluke hoping to become first goalkeeper to win the FIFA Puskas Award
  • Spectacular overhead kick helped Baroka avoid relegation
  • The South African is regarded as a role model in his home village

When Oscarine Masuluke flies from Johannesburg to London on Sunday he will be embarking on a journey that he would have never thought possible a year ago.

At the time, he was a 23-year-old goalkeeper playing for Baroka FC, who were struggling against relegation in their first-ever season in the South African top flight. Although he was the team’s first choice goalkeeper, Masuluke grabbed few headlines and very few people outside of South Africa would have heard of him.

But all of that changed in November of last year when Baroka played a league match against South African glamour club Orlando Pirates. Down 1-0 and with five minutes of injury time already on the clock, Masuluke rushed forward when his side received a corner. The ball was played into the area, where Pirates goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane punched it away.

It fell to Masuluke, who, with his back to the goal, had no option but to try an outrageous overhead bicycle kick, which sailed over Mabokgwane’s outstretched hands and the Pirates defenders on the line, to give his side a dramatic equaliser. At the end of the season the goal proved even more invaluable, as Baroka avoided relegation by a single point.

At the time, he could not have realised that the goal would change his life forever. “I did not think about scoring when I went up and I did not think what it would do to my life after I scored. All I wanted to do was to help my team, so I went up for the corner. I tried to go in for the header, but the keeper punched the ball away, so I just ran towards it. I did not have time to turn, so the only thing I could do was to try the bicycle kick and it went in,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.

Luckily for him, the game was broadcast and his exploits, as well as the dance he performed to celebrate, soon went viral, reaching a world-wide audience and grabbing the attention of the panel of judges who decide on the shortlist for FIFA Puskas Award. Alan Shearer, Celia Sasic, Abby Wambach, Henrik Larsson and Predrag Mijatovic obviously thought highly of the goal and the South Africa goalkeeper was named one of the finalists.

Flying to London

When the original list of ten finalists was whittled down to three, Masuluke remained in the running and he will be present in London when the winner is announced at The Best FIFA Football Awards™. “It really is like a dream come true and I am so excited to have been invited. I have never even been outside South Africa and now I will be flying to England and be meeting players like [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar.”

Masuluke, who is hoping to make history by becoming the first goalkeeper to win the coveted award, said he was also looking forward to meeting the other two Puskas finalists – Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and Deyna Castellanos from Venezuela. “Of course I am wishing them luck, but I think I can win. But even if I don’t, it will still be a tremendous trip and one I would never have thought I would be taking.”

His rise to stardom has enthralled the entire region of Giyani, where he was born and brought up. He started playing for local club Jackson Young Stars before joining lower league club Winners Park FC. A move to Baroka followed in 2014. A spokesman for the local municipality, Neil Shikwambana said that he had now become an inspirational figure.

“Masuluke grew up in a rural area where there are not so many role models. His nomination for the award has made the province and whole country proud. His achievement is now a great inspiration to many youngsters in the area and this will now act as big motivation to them that if you work hard in anything you do, either in education or other sporting activities, you can achieve success.”

Before he left for England, the local community hosted a special farewell dinner for the goalkeeper, wishing him well. Should he return to South Africa with the coveted award in his luggage, it seems likely that the whole community will be out to welcome him back.

Updated: October 21, 2017 — 3:32 pm
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