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Fri Apr 18 17:39:50 SAST 2014

The night Bafana became men

NICK SAID | 03 July, 2012 06:470 Comments
Doctor Khumalo controls the ball during the second match of the three-match series against Cameroon at Goodwood Showgrounds in Cape Town which the visitors won 2-1. The series marked South Africa's return to international football 20 years ago
Image by: MARK GLEESON / GALLO IMAGES

ON A cold and wet night at King's Park in Durban, South Africans stepped out to meet Cameroon on July 7 1992 in the first of a three-match tour by the Indomitable Lions.

ON A cold and wet night at King's Park in Durban, South Africans stepped out to meet Cameroon on July 7 1992 in the first of a three-match tour by the Indomitable Lions.

Cameroon were chosen because of their popularity, having stunned the world by reaching the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, with their veteran forward Roger Milla part of the squad at the age of 40.

Steve Komphela, recently caretaker coach of Bafana Bafana until the appointment of Gordon Igesund on Saturday, says the memories of that day will live with him for the rest of his life.

"It was an unbelievable time," he said. "We had absolutely no clue about international football, but I think the euphoria of readmission got us through.

"As Shosholoza was being sung, I looked to the floodlights and saw that it had started to rain. I like to think these where the tears of God, tears of joy for us and what was being achieved in South Africa. It was a defining moment for me."

The game was won 1-0 by South Africa thanks to a generous late penalty, awarded by the Botswana referee. Initially, nobody stepped up to take the spot-kick and make history, but captain on the night, Neil Tovey, asked Doctor Khumalo to take on the responsibility and the former Kaizer Chiefs man duly obliged.

"When the ball hit the back of the net, the stadium went wild and I celebrated more out of relief than anything else," Khumalo says. "Even after the game, it was just another penalty scored and I was relieved.

"But then the next day someone said to me: 'Man, what does it feel like to make history?' and it was only then that I really thought about it and the significance of that goal to South Africa and to me."

Tovey never believed he would play international football, given the political situation and his age, but he would go on to represent his country 52 times and lift the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations trophy.

"It was the opening of a door to all the players who could now dream of playing in Europe. It wasn't long after that Lucas [Radebe] and Phil [Masinga] went to Leeds United and since then everyone has had a proper opportunity," Tovey says.

The three-match series was shared with a win apiece, and a draw in the last game at Soccer City. South Africa displayed their naïvety and tactical immaturity but were patently better footballers than the tough Cameroonians, whose physical strength was key to their game.

Now, some 275 matches later, Bafana have put their fans through a roller-coaster of emotions, with notable highs and lows.

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The night Bafana became men

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