Neil Greig was a bright-eyed, 20-year-old reporter when South Africa’s Under-23s lined up to face their New Zealand counterparts in May 2000 in the final match of the Olympic Games qualifiers.
AmaGlug-glug had beaten Togo in a two-legged tie to reach the qualifier group stages, where they were pitted against the West African trio of Ghana, Guinea and Cameroon.
The latter ended up topping the group - and, ultimately, claiming the Gold medal - but South Africa finished as the best second-placed team, setting up the two-legged play-off against the All Whites.
Matthew Booth had scored a last-minute winner in the first leg in Auckland, but the job was far from done when the two sides faced off in Vosloorus six days later.
Greig, covering the match for KICK OFF magazine, relives the drama…
“Can you believe that was in May 2000 … 20 years ago. That’s half my life ago!
“The game was at Vosloorus, which had become the ‘slaughterhouse’ for the Under-23s during that campaign. Shakes [Mashaba] liked the name, the players liked it, and the team got a lot of results there. The stadium was always packed, and on that particular day it was again filled to the rafters.
“So that game was the ‘final hurdle’, and we [KICK OFF magazine staff] had set aside the Sunday to go into the office to do the special edition, Amaglug-glug - The Story Behind the Glory, if they went through. With the game being at home, there was a lot of confidence that the guys would get the result they needed, but with New Zealand being a typically organised squad, there was a threat that we wouldn’t be able to break them down and score goals.
“Our line-up was pretty strong, but there were also some guys that Shakes always liked to pick which frustrated the supporters. There was striker Lebo Kukame, and then at the back Nkhiphitheni Matombo … they used to call him ‘Shakes’ Son’ because he got so many caps! He was really just a hard worker, while Kukame wasn’t flashy at all, but he got a lot of game-time in a really star-studded squad. Kukame started the match with [Siyabonga] Nomvethe up-front; with [Stanton] Fredericks and [Steve] Lekoelea on the wings.
“AmaGlug-glug typically had a lot of possession with Lekoelea, Fredericks and Quinton Fortune. They were running New Zealand ragged, and then you had Patrick Mbuthu, who sat back and played that holding role so brilliantly. He was such a good passer and almost never gave the ball away.
“But despite all the possession and play, we struggled to break New Zealand down and it went into the final 10 minutes of the game. New Zealand had that centre-back, Ryan Nelson, who played for Blackburn Rovers. They were very organised and kept pressing the line hard, catching our strikers offside the whole time.
“You remember a young Siyabonga Nomvethe … he used to run offside often, to everyone’s frustration. ‘Bhele’ would run so fast and so hard that he would sometimes end up in the advertising boards with the ball still at his feet. He would struggle to slow down, let alone time his runs!
“It was looking like a day of frustration, but then came little Daniel Matsau to net the winner in the 87th minute. Shakes had brought Matsau on for Kukame, to the fans’ delight. They loved Matsau, who was a Kaizer Chiefs player and a little dynamo.
"He came on in the 84th minute and got the winner three minutes later, and there’s that classic photo in the magazine of him in full flight, both feet in the air as he struck the ball on the swivel. It was a cracking goal and it did the job as we made history. We all celebrated hard, the KICK OFF team put together this great magazine, and we were off to the Olympics!”