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25 years on from Bafana’s greatest day

Today marks the 25-year anniversary of the greatest day in South African football history - the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations Final, and Mark Williams’ late double strike that secured the trophy.

South Africa were not even meant to host the event in the first place - Kenya’s late withdrawal because the stadiums weren’t ready gave Bafana Bafana home ground advantage. And they were further buoyed when West African powerhouse and tournament favourites Nigeria withdrew because of President Nelson Mandela’s public criticism of the country’s government following the execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

But Clive Barker’s men still had to make it work, and they got off to the perfect start in the opening match against Cameroon at Soccer City, with Phil Masinga, Williams and John Moshoeu scoring in a comprehensive 3-0 win.

A nervy 1-0 victory against Angola - courtesy of another Williams strike - made it two from two, meaning the 1-0 defeat against Egypt in the final group counted for little, and amounted to nothing more than a slight hiccup in an otherwise perfect three weeks for the hosts.

Moshoeu scored an 85th-minute winner in the quarterfinal against Algeria after Tarek Lazizi cancelled out Mark Fish’s opener, and ‘Shoes’ added another two in a resounding 3-0 semifinal victory against Ghana, with Shaun Bartlett scoring the other.

Onto the final at ‘fortress’ Soccer City, where Tunisia lay in wait after beating Zambia in the last four. After more than 70 goalless minutes, substitute Williams scored twice in as many minutes - first heading home Sizwe Motaung’s cross after Eric Tinkler had hit the woodwork, and then firing into the far corner after Doctor Khumalo had won the ball in midfield and played the perfect through-ball.

Bafana Bafana’s AFCON highlights may have significantly lessened in subsequent years, but no-one will ever forget the sight of captain Neil Tovey (in a white Tunisian shirt!) lifting the trophy as a jubilant Madiba cheered on.


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