While the focus has been on the anniversary of Africa’s first World cup in 2010, today marks another milestone in South African football history as it was when Bafana Bafana participated in the global event for the first time in France 1998.
South Africa had earned their first appearance 22 years ago, following the late Phil Masinga’s stunner that gave Bafana a 1-0 win against Congo Brazzaville on 16 August 1997 at the FNB Stadium, to finish top of Group C.
Within a space of 11 months prior to their first match in Marseille, Bafana Bafana had three coaches (Clive Barker, Jomo Sono and Philippe Troussier) which led to a lot of wholesale changes from the squad that secured the World Cup spot.
Former defender and the vice-captain of the team in France, Mark Fish, takes FARPost through the journey from the qualification, to the opening match (against France) up until the last Group C match (against Saudi Arabia) at the Tournament.
“Everything came together from that moment when we realised that now we are not only representing the players of South Africa then but also the players who came before us and the future players to go to a World Cup,” said Fish.
“I remember Clive Barker running like an aeroplane (after Phil Masinga’s goal) saying we are going to France and from that moment and I think the euphoria of qualifying for that World Cup is probably the second best football experience for me at that time after the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations win,” he said.
On 12 June 1998, South Africa played hosts France in front of packed Stade Velodrome, losing 3-0.
“Obviously it’s easy to talk about it now but here you are playing against different big names (Emmanuel) Petit, Laurent Blanc and Zinedine Zidane just to name a few and they went to win the World Cup. So you are playing against a host nation, 55 000 people in the stadium behind them, in the opening game of the World Cup and the whole world is watching, so obviously there is no bigger occasion to represent your country than that,” said the 1995 CAF Champions League winner with Orlando Pirates.
Fish also agrees with the notion that, had South Africa kept the bulk of that ’96 Afcon winning team they would have done a lot better.
“Yes we would have (done better). I agree that there would have been one or two players from that ’96 team for sure (getting older) over a period of two years going into a World Cup we would have had young players coming into represent us the likes of Quinton Fortune, Benni McCarthy and Delron Buckley to take on the positions that they were competent to compete in so yes they would have made that squad stronger (1996 squad) and I can say had we kept the same coach that won us the Afcon in 1996 as well (Barker), we could be talking a different story,” he said.
A lot of questions remain unanswered on what really transpired when Naughty Mokoena and Brendan Augustine were expelled and sent back home (for breaking a curfew) and Fish also feels the whole situation could have been handled better.
“Of course I recall what really happened because Brendan (Augustine) was my roommate so we were allowed to go out until a certain time and the next morning when I woke up I saw Brendan was still sleeping and I asked him why he was not waking up to go change (for training) and he said no he is not changing so after that I heard what had happened but unfortunately if we had a coach that was for the team and for the players that situation would not have happened. If we had Clive Barker there, that Naughty Mokoena and Brendan Augustine situation would definitely not have happened,” he said.
On Troussier being the coach to take the country to the World Cup, this is what the former Bolton Wanderers player had to say:
“Phillip Troussier obviously came with the pedigree of a good technical coach but not a good man management coach. He came to me personally and told me I would be the vice-captain and Lucas (Radebe) is the captain so I had an understanding but once the national team was together he immediately separated local-based players and foreign-based players so his man management of players was diabolical and that was from day one and that created chaos in the camp so unfortunately he was his worst enemy and he was not the right man to take us to the World Cup.”
South Africa finished with 2 points in the group from the two draws against Denmark (1-1) and Saudi Arabia (2-2).
Shaun Bartlett was the teams’ leading goal scorer with 2 goals while a 20-year-old Benni McCarthy scored South Africa’s other goal.
RELATED STORY: Troussier was an idiot – Mark Fish
By Ofhani Munyai