By Eddie Chikamhi
Four clean sheets in five games, and a maiden medal with his new club, capped a fine comeback story for Zimbabwe international goalkeeper, Washington Arubi, on Saturday night.
He is now set to play in the CAF Confederation Cup next season.
Arubi was named the Nedbank Cup Goalkeeper of the Tournament after leading his club Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila to glory with a 1-0 win over Chippa United in the final.
TTM pocketed R7m (US$500 000) for winning the final and qualified for the 2021-2022 CAF Confederation Cup.
The victory is expected to boost the side’s battle to survive in the DStv Premiership, where they sit third from the bottom, with five games remaining, in the season.
“This is a great moment for me,” Arubi told The Herald, from his base, yesterday.
“It’s something that I have been looking forward to, considering where I was coming from.
“It’s been a difficult journey for me. I met several challenges along the way but I was always sure I was going to overcome.
“The secret was to keep going despite the challenges.
“Everything that has happened to me, I have accepted that it had to go that way. Of course, it was frustrating but I refused to take it as a stumbling block to my career.
“I took it as an experience and there were many lessons along the way. I took everything that came to me as a challenge, which needed to be faced.
“I chose to look at the positives and it helped me to develop a strong mental fortitude.”
The 35-year-old has managed to put behind him the disappointments he faced, in the last two years, before joining TTM.
His career appeared to have veered off track, after his stints with Pretoria University, Stellenbosch and SuperSport United.
But, it appears he has picked up the pieces and has returned to his previous best.
He was recently hailed as “one of the best goalkeepers in the country” by Mamelodi Sundowns coach, Manqoba Mngqithi, following his heroics against the defending champions in the semi-final.
He did very well behind the goals and saved his team countless times, including saving vital spot kicks in two games, during the penalty shootout, as TTM marched to their first silverware.
Keeping four clean sheets in five games, during the campaign, was a fine record for the ‘keeper.
He started off his brilliant run when TTM beat his former paymasters, Supersport United, 1-0 in the Round of 32.
The former Dynamos goalkeeper conceded only two goals in 510 minutes.
His goal was only breached when TTM drew 2-2 with Swallows, in the last 16, of the tourney.
However, he went on to play a starring role, stopping two spot kicks in the shootout lottery, to set up a 4-3 victory.
Arubi kept another clean sheet, in the 2-0 win over Black Leopards, in the quarter-finals.
He then frustrated holders, and favourites, Sundowns, in the semi-finals with a string of top drawer saves.
The match statistics showed Sundowns had 12 shots at goal, and seven of them on target, yet they could not breach the goal for 120 minutes, thanks to Arubi’s athleticism.
The highlight of the match came during the spot kicks when he brilliantly dived to his right to block Hlompho Kekana’s firmly-struck spot-kick, to secure a shock 6-5 victory, at Loftus Versfeld.
TTM attacking midfielder, Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo’s 27th minute strike at the Free State Stadium, handed the side the title on Saturday night.
Arubi’s commanding presence was crucial in the 1-0 victory.
Another Zimbabwean Edwin Madhananga was an unused substitute in the final.
“Of course, the goalkeeper is credited with the clean sheets but I certainly believe this was a product of teamwork,’’ said Arubi.
‘’I would like to give credit to my teammates and everyone involved at TTM.
“I conceded two goals in this competition, which is unbelievable. We were great as a team.”
Arubi believes the victory will help them in their fight for survival in the DStv Premiership where they sit on the last position of safety on 25 points.
They are just one point ahead of Chippa United, who currently occupy the relegation play-off slot.
“It’s still game on for us. We had two missions and we have achieved one,” said Arubi.
“Obviously, we are looking forward to the CAF Confederation Cup but for now the focus is on surviving relegation.
“The Nedbank Cup is behind us now and we are now on to our second mission.
“For me, it will be more satisfying to talk about the Confederation Cup when we know that our PSL status for next season is guaranteed.
“We have a game coming up this Wednesday and we are already in camp. That is where the focus is right now.
“Winning the Nedbank Cup has taught us that everything is possible if you put heart and mind into it.”
Arubi has been a vital cog for TTM, with his nine clean sheets, in 23 DStv Premiership games.
He guided the side to a 2-1 win over Kaizer Chiefs last Tuesday to keep them above the drop zone in their quest for survival. The Herald