25 years later ... Bafana Bafana’s Class of ’96 still waiting for Afcon repeat
By Matshelane Mamabolo
JOHANNESBURG - While delighted at still being national football heroes 25 years after they led Bafana Bafana to Africa Cup of Nations glory, Clive Barker and Neil Tovey are saddened that their great feat is yet to be replicated.
Following that success at the biennial continental showpiece back in 1996, South Africa’s senior national team has literally regressed, with qualification for Afcon now as rare as an honest politician.
“I often get asked why is it that there has not been another success like 1996,” Tovey said as he looked back to that glorious Saturday, February 3 at a packed FNB Stadium when Mark Williams came off the bench to score a brace that sunk Tunisia to deliver the title.
“It is not easy to answer because we have quality players. There has been some some remarkable players and fantastic teams that came after us. But I think the difference is in the mentality of players. We were a family and we were highly driven to do well.”
Barker said: “That 1996 team was fantastic. They would go the extra mile for each other. The quality was amazing and they were all big personalities. That really helped us as a technical team.”
Tovey believes, however, that as a country, South Africa dropped the ball after that success.
“As an association (the SA Football Association) we probably lost the plot a bit,” he said.
“I think we thought that things would just continue as they were and we failed to raise our game.
“We thought that the conveyor belt would continue to deliver the same quality players and didn't do much to work on improving ourselves. But that happens.
“I must say though that Afcon is a really tough competition.”
The 1996 Afcon Bafana team, who were captained by Tovey and coached by Barker, lost their third group match to Egypt.
“That brought us down to earth,” Tovey said.
“We had cruised into the knockout stage by beating Cameroon and Angola and we assumed it would be the same against Egypt, but they taught us a lesson.”
Barker, in his maverick and unique way, helped the team get over the loss by organising a karaoke evening.
“And we got to discover that we had a Frank Sinatra in our midst in the form of Mark Williams.
“We had fun and that really helped get the boys back into their confident spirit,” Barker said.
Bafana then beat Algeria in the quarter-finals before delivering a super semi-final showing in which they hammered then mighty Ghana 3-0.
Barker believes that remains one of the greatest performances by the national team to this day.
“I said after that match that we would have beaten any team in the world with that type of performance.
“That match showed the quality of the players we had,” Barker said.
Any thoughts that Bafana had peaked too early were dispelled when they beat a youthful Tunisia 2-0 in the final to become continental champions in their inaugural appearance at the tournament.
That success, however, is yet to be repeated a quarter of a century later ...