Abafana baseMzansi - Part 6

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 3rd Aug 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Sports>Football (Soccer)

The sixth part of a series looking at the history of the South African national football team with this installment focusing on the team's exploits in AFCON '98 and the emergence of a future star.

Benni in the 18 area!

By virtue of being the holders, South Africa qualified for the 1998 AFCON finals in Burkina Faso but in a controversial decision, coach Clive Barker was sacked mere weeks before the finals. With not enough time to properly scout for a new manager, SAFA took the decision to place Jomo Sono as the caretaker of the team up until they found a suitable replacement.

The decision wasn’t well received because many in the country felt that Clive Barker had done well in his tenure and that it wouldn’t be a good idea to sack a manager just a couple of weeks before the tournament. Another issue was that because of the teams progression under Clive Barkers tutelage was so good; fans had expectations of the team and didn’t think that Bra J (who had up to this point only won the Second Division, the NSL and the BOB Save Super Bowl) could match them.

With an average age of twenty-five, Jomo went for a more youthful team than the ’96 AFCON and ’97 Confederations Cup teams with only eight players from Clive Barkers tenure as national team coach. Veterans such as Lucas Radebe and Shoes Moshoeu brought much needed international experience to complement the youth brought in such as Quinton Fortune and Aaron Mokoena (whose performances are another topic for another day).

Brian Baloyi
Simon Gopane
John Tlale

Andrew Rabutla
David Nyathi
Willem Jackson
Mark Fish
Lucas Radebe

Alex Bapela
Dumisa Ngobe
Aaron Mokoena
John Moshoeu
Helman Mkhalele
Quinton Fortune
Thabo Mooki
John Moeti
Brandon Silent
Themba Mnguni

Philemon Masinga
Brendan Augustine
Pollen Ndlanya
Benni McCarthy

Just as Clive Barkers squad reflected the philosophy he used, Jomo’s did the same and while he might have been an amazing attacker in his prime, Bra J was never what one could call an adventurous manager. Come to think of it, the 1998 AFCON squad represented everything about Jomo Sono as a manager:

• Tough tackling defenders
• Physically large or intimidating players
• Burly strikers to bully opposition
• Dynamic midfielders
• Hard working wingers

It may have been due to him managing Jomo Cosmos (a historically smaller club that regularly fought for survival in the league) but his stint at the national team brought a grit that wasn’t there. More so, if there could be one word that could describe that ’98 AFCON side, it would be versatility.

While Clive Barker preferred specialists, Jomo brought all-rounders. Jomo’s squad might not have been balanced (he brought five defenders and ten midfielders) but players like Quinton Fortune had the ability to slot in anywhere when required and do a serviceable job.

Jomo placed an emphasis of a sturdy defense first and if the opportunity presented itself, countering to exploit the opposition’s vulnerabilities. For this reason, the attacking flair and skill that were present in previous iterations of the team weren’t as prominent which unsurprisingly led to a lower goal tally.

In truth, the only reason why South Africa was able to go as far as they did in AFCON ’98 was because of a prodigious twenty year old that would go on to become arguably South Africa’s greatest export to world football.

A powerful forward in the mold of Christian Vieri who was capable of fashioning out his own chances, Benni McCarthy was unable to attend the ’97 Confederations Cup. Furthermore with Phil Masinga and Mark Williams being the preferred options, Benni received few opportunities to break into the side but once age had kicked in, the stage was set for Benni to cement his place into the Bafana lineup for years to come.
In a group consisting of Angola, the Ivory Coast and Namibia, South Africa could only manage second position with two draws and a win against Namibia, most notably remembered for McCarthy scoring four goals in 21 minutes. Thanks to his brilliance, South Africa set up a quarter-final clash with Morocco.

McCarthy struck again to give South Africa the lead in the quarter-final before Morocco drew level but with eleven minutes remaining, David Nyathi got the winner to book a semi-final against the Democratic Republic of Congo where McCarthy once again inspired Bafana Bafana with a brace to a come from behind 2-1 victory and reach their second consecutive AFCON final against the Pharaohs of Egypt.

While the final was a step too far for the team with Egypt claiming their fourth AFCON after a 2-0 win, the talk of the tournament was the twenty year old Ajax Amsterdam striker as his incredible performances earned him the Joint Top Goalscorer Award with 7 goals (alongside Egyptian legend Hossam Hassan) and the Player of the Tournament award.

While one could argue that Benni dragged the team into the final, credit has to be given to Jomo and what he accomplished with the team with proving his doubters wrong especially considering the pre-tournament controversy and despite the team being unable to defend their title, AFCON ’98 was a success as a new generation had been unearthed in time for the World Cup.

However despite all that was happening, the biggest thing to come out of South Africa’s campaign in Burkina Faso was that SAFA seemingly found their ideal man for the Bafana job.

And surprisingly enough, it wasn’t Jomo.

*Benni was so popular that he hat a hit song with local kwaito legends TKZee:

*A taste of what Benni McCarthy was capable of:


Football Soccer, History, Soccer, South Africa

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author avatar Memba Ben
A fan's view on the business of football.

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