11 June 2019, by: Carl Lewis
BAFANA BAFANA AFCON JOURNEY: 1996-2017
There was a time when Bafana Bafana was a respected force on the African continent, especially when it came to AFCON. The mid-’90s was the beginning of what can only be described as the golden age for South African football at Africa Cup of Nations.
This period saw South Africa standing shoulder to shoulder with the best on the continent. Knockout football at AFCON was the expected standard from a young nation that as hungry for sporting glory to help build its international status.
The decline began in the mid-2000s when Bafana struggled to break free from the AFCON group stage. The problems of mediocrity eventually compounded each campaign and Bafana have struggled ever since to regain its relevance and prestige.
We’ve charted Bafana Bafana’s AFCON journey from a respected African powerhouse to perennial underachievers of continental football.
1996 - Winners (Clive Barker)
Undoubtedly the finest year in South African football. AFCON 1996 is the defining event in the nation’s football thus far. It was Bafana Bafana’s first tournament since re-admission into international sport. Riding the on the goodwill of a young Rainbow Nation, the hosts lifted their first and only Africa Cup of Nations title.
In their AFCON opener, Bafana beat Cameroon 3-0, which was a sign of things to come. Phil Masinga, Mark Williams and John “Shoes” Mosheu were on the scoresheet. They edged Angola 1-0, Willaims again on target, before losing to Egypt but they still qualified top of their group.
Into the knockout stages and Bafana’s run continued picking up momentum. Mark Fish scored a late winner against Algeria after Mosheu opend the scoring. In the final four contest against Ghana, South Africa put in another memorable shift as Mosheu scored again, this time a brace alongside Shaun Bartlett’s strike set up a dream final for hosts against Tunisia.
In the final in front 75 000 at Soccer City, substitute striker Williams scored two late second-half goals against Tunisia to secure the most important victory for South Africa. The match still ignites an emotional feeling within anyone who was around at that time. The picture of Neil Tovey lifting the trophy alongside a jubilant Nelson Mandela in front of a packed Soccer City is an iconic image.
The team was loaded with exceptional talents such as John “Shoes” Mosheu, Mark Fish, Phil Masinga, Eric Tinkler, Doctor Khumalo and Shaun Bartlett. South African football has struggled to reach the heights of 1996 ever since.
1998 - Runners up (Jomo Sono)
The tournament will be remembered for the emergence of 20-year-old marksman Benni McCarthy. The striker announced himself onto the international scene by bagging 7 goals at AFCON. McCarthy also picked up the Player of the Tournament award for leading Bafana to a final. McCarthy’s seven-goal haul also included 4 in just 13 minutes against Namibia in the group stages. South Africa went unbeaten in the group stages but finished second behind the powerful Ivory Coast.
They slowly picked up momentum during the course of the tournament and pulled off some impressive results. Firstly, in the quarter-finals against Morocco, they won 2-1. Bafana followed that up with a 2-1 extra-time semi-final victory against DR Congo. McCarthy was again the star bagging a decisive brace.
On the hunt for what would have been an unlikely back-to-back AFCON titles. South Africa succumbed to the excellent Egyptians losing 2-0 in the final. They still had their first ever World Cup appearance in France to look forward to that year.
2000 - Third Place (Trott Moloto)
Another South African striker lit up AFCON, this time it was Shaun Bartlett, he ended as the top scorer with five goals at the tournament held in Ghana and Nigeria. Bartlett scored in every group match (DR Congo, Gabon and Algeria) which ensured an easy passage into the knockout stages for Bafana.
— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) January 6, 2016