Tsabedze, Swaziland’s 2015 landmark
Discreet captain of equally humble Swaziland, Tony Tsabedze has been trying since 2003 to put his country in the spotlight. With patience, humility and dedication. He won that bet in June 2015.
June 12th, 2015. First qualifier of the African Cup of Nations, group L. The favorite that year is Guinea, in the quarter final of the last AFCON. It welcomes a tiny country of Southern Africa, 162th in the FIFA ranking: Swaziland. No matter if the game is moved to the Mohamed V stadium in Casablanca due to the ebola epidemic ravaging the region: the Sily led by Luiz Fernandez is about to sink his teeth in this country stuck between Mozambique and South Africa. That, however, was counting without little known Tony Thulani Tsabedze. Job? Football player. His status within Sihlangu Semnikati, his team? Captain. His endgame? Mess with prognostics and perform miracles. And this is precisely what happened that Friday.
“I would have settled for a tie…”
That day, Swaziland simply writes the greatest page in its football history. Tsabedze first scores in the first quarter, then shakes off the last game equalization from François Kamano. Still grieving over the passing of his child, Tony, the day’s surprise, throws logic out of the window. Even the coach, Harris Bulunga, thinks he’s dreaming once the whistle blows. “To be completely honest, I didn’t expect to win in Guinea. I hoped for a tie at best, but I knew we had a good dynamic and that we could do something good. It was a tough game, but we showed a lot of technical qualities. We managed to enhance our game. But knowing the qualities of Guinea and its players, I would have signed for a tie…
The new hero of 1,250000 Swazis is now called Tony Tsabedze and is pushing 31. Beyond his age, the lad is viewed as a big brother of the team due to his time in national team (he’s been there since the early 2000s) and his experience as a player. With forward Mthunzi Mkhontfo (no playing for the AS Vita in DRC) he’s the only player having shared his skills abroad. In South Africa, where he spent almost a decade between 2002 and 2011 (five seasons at the Supersport United Football Club, one at the Silver Stars Polokwane, one at the Maritzburg United Football Club, and two at the Santos Cape Town). Enough time to snatch a championship and a cup.
Still no play in AFCON
So here’s why the man who put his mark on his country’s history is so well respected. “We have experienced players, like our captain Tony Tsabedze, who lead by example and scored two goals against Guinea”, recalls his teammate Mkhontfo in March 2016. “We also have promising young players who rise through the team and have great balance. It is a nice marriage of wisdom and youth.” A marriage which, under its guide’s influence, allows Swaziland to sit proudly at the 138th place of FIFA in July 2016. And no matter if Tsabedze will never have the joy to qualify for a major tournament (for the AFCON qualifications 2017, the Sihlangu Semnikati, which still awaits its first try at the AFCON, finished second in its groupe stage). No matter if the results are a bit disappointing. No matter if he doesn’t have another magic moment. The Man still has the merit of being renowned internationally (three Swaziland championships and two cups with the Mbabane Swallows, where he plays since 2011) and having contributed to make his national team improved. Because a small land needs big events to move forward.