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JOHANNESBURG – The captain of the South African national soccer team was fatally shot at his girlfriend's house during an attempted robbery Sunday night as he tried to apprehend the intruders, police and an eyewitness said.
Goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa was killed around 8 p.m. after two gunmen entered a house in Vosloorus township near Johannesburg while an accomplice of theirs waited outside. The 27-year-old Meyiwa was shot in the upper body, police spokesman Brig. Neville Malila said Monday.
Tumelo Waka Madlala, a friend of Meyiwa's who said he was at the house during the attempted robbery, said the goalkeeper was shot while trying to stop the intruders, who had demanded cellphones and money from people inside the home.
"As they were running away we tried to stop them and that is when they shot him at point blank range," Madlala told The Associated Press.
The house belonged to Meyiwa's girlfriend Kelly Khumalo, a South African singer and celebrity, witnesses said. There were seven people in the house before the intruders entered, according to police. No one else was hurt.
South Africa's police force offered a reward of nearly $23,000 for information leading to arrests in the death of the captain of the country's most popular national sports team. Meyiwa also played for the Orlando Pirates, one of South Africa's biggest clubs.
National soccer team coach Ephraim Mashaba wiped away tears at a news conference in Johannesburg as he spoke about Meyiwa, who had recently been made South Africa captain and led the team in four African Cup of Nations qualifiers this year. He hadn't conceded a goal in the four games.
"Most of the time, these things come when you least expect," coach Mashaba said, tears running down his cheeks. "We're going to miss Senzo a lot ... never mind his saving goals."
South African police announced late Sunday on their Twitter account that Meyiwa had been shot and killed, adding it was breaking protocol to announce his death soon after the shooting. Police also called for calm, saying "upset" people had gathered at the house and at the hospital where Meyiwa was confirmed dead.
Police said he was shot after an "altercation" with the suspects and were treating the incident as an attempted robbery and had opened a murder case.
South Africa has a high rate of violent crime, an issue that was raised during the recent trial of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who claimed he shot and killed his girlfriend by accident in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home.
Orlando Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza called on football fans to help find the people responsible for killing Meyiwa. He said the club and Meyiwa's teammates were "devastated" and were sobbing and crying when they gathered for training on Monday morning.
"Senzo was a good man," Khoza said. "24 hours cannot go past without knowing who killed Senzo ... We don't want to speculate, we want to know who killed Senzo."
South African President Jacob Zuma also released a statement saying "words cannot express the nation's shock at this loss."
"The law enforcement authorities must leave no stone unturned in finding his killers and bring them to justice," Zuma said.
Dean Furman, one of Meyiwa's national teammates, wrote on Twitter: "Beyond devastated at the loss of our captain & friend Senzo Meyiwa. Thoughts & prayers are with his family & friends at this terrible time."
Meyiwa led the South Africa team in its last game, a 0-0 draw with Republic of Congo on Oct. 15 that kept it top of its group and on course to qualify for next year's continental championship. He played for Orlando Pirates on Saturday in a 4-1 win over Ajax Cape Town in a cup competition.
South Africa's Premier Soccer League postponed this weekend's derby game between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, the country's two biggest clubs, out of respect for Meyiwa.
Meyiwa's killing was the second death to hit South African sport in three days after former 800-meter world champion and Olympic silver medalist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was killed in a car crash on Friday.
Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Associated Press journalist Thomas Phakane contributed to this report from Johannesburg.