Matthew Booth says the most recent World Cup in Brazil was quite a spectacle. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
With the 2018 World Cup almost upon us, soccer writer Mihlali Baleka had a chat with some of South Africa’s football legends who have had a feel of the global showpiece.

Aaron Mokoena

“I think for me being part of the build-up to the 2010 World Cup that we hosted here in South Africa was something special. As a result, I had to conduct more than 350 interviews with media people from across the world. Coming back home in the tour bus when we travelled across Sandton with people showing us love and support was something else. In our first game against Mexico, when we were in the tunnel, reality that we were the host nation sunk in. This was a do or die fixture for everyone. The goal by Siphiwe Tshabalala from an inexperienced country against the experienced Mexicans meant everything. The belief we had in ourselves going into the game against a star-studded France in the group stages made us realise that anything is possible if only we put our minds into it.’’

Pick in Russia - Senegal

Danny Jordaan

“Personally, I’ve been to six World Cups and Russia will be my seventh. However, I’ll forever cherish our opening match against Mexico. What makes this special was the goal that Siphiwe Tshabalala scored. Also when Andres Iniesta scored the winner against Netherlands in the final was a delight to see considering that this was Spain’s first triumph. Who can forget the appearance that was made by the iconic Nelson Mandela at Soccer City Stadium? Then there was Ghana who were the pride of Africa after qualifying for the quarter-finals. Our World Cup was voted as the best by the public. I also cannot forget how Senegal beat France 1-0 in the 2002 World Cup that was in South Korea and Japan. We all know that Brazil is the capital of football but being outsmarted at home by Germany in 2014 was pretty special.’’

Pick in Russia - Argentina

Philemon Masinga

“Our 2010 World Cup was very memorable because we proved that we can host a successful global showpiece. From 1986, I remember watching when Diego Maradona was still at his best. The World Cup in 1998 was my first time playing in such a major event and it was such an honour although we bowed out of the competition in the first three games. However, the following event in 2002 we played well but we still couldn’t make it as far as the second round. Siyabonga Nomvethe’s goal that gave us our only win against Slovenia was quite something to remember. Luckily, in 2006, Germany, I was there to watch from the quarter-finals to the finals. It was also a big moment when Zinedine Zidane head-butted Materazzi.’’

Pick in Russia - Belgium

Phil Masinga has fond memories of the World Cup, he enjoyed 2010 because it was a home tournament but 1986 also stands out for him. Photo: BackpagePix

Jerome Damon

“In the World Cup in Germany, I was the fourth official in the game between Argentina and Iran. It was so overwhelming to see two different religions come together because of football. As I was in the dressing room of the Argentines, there was a little group of Catholics praying together. Then I walked into the Iranians’ dressing room and they were praying to Allah. Coming back home, in the opening match against the Mexicans, I took off the cap of being a referee and became a South African as I screamed and jumped when Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the opener. I am looking forward to the implementation of the V.A.R system this time.’’

Pick in Russia - Argentina

Siyabonga Nomvethe

“The World Cup is a tournament that almost every player wants to play in, and the one in 2002 hosted by South Korea and Japan was ground-breaking for me because I scored my first international goal and it gave us the winner against Slovenia. At the time I was only 24. It was also amazing to play at home in 2010, as I didn’t think I would feature as a 32-year-old but I am delighted that I managed to contribute to our famous victory against France. Age has never been a factor on my side because I use my head more than my feet.’’

Pick in Russia - Nigeria

Pitso Mosimane

“Being in Brazil in the previous event was memorable for me. I got to see different cities like Sao Paulo and Salvador. But the most interesting day was the night before the Brazil versus the Croatia game. We couldn’t sleep due to the singing of the Brazilians competing with the Croatians. The Croatians gave us a live performance as we travelled together by train to the stadium. In the other game, Arjen Robben dribbled everyone as Holland beat defending champions Spain. I was also happy with how we managed our traffic during the 2010 World Cup, just like in our recent game against Barcelona. I think Shabba’s goal is something that we’ll always carry with us. The much needed win against France in the last game was huge. It’s a pity we were one goal short of qualifying for the next round.’’

Pick in Russia - Spain

Enock Molefe

“It’s every player’s dream to participate in a World Cup, and so it is with any match official. I first featured in a few Fifa Youth/Junior World Cups such as the 2003 Under-17 World Cup in Helsinki. I started learning the Fifa culture and managed to compete with the Europeans in the Under-20s, Olympics and the Club World Cup. Our hard work paid off when we made it to the Germany World Cup in 2006 as a reserve team. And I was very excited and happy when we made it to the SA 2010 World Cup. We handled two group stages matches, Slovakia versus New Zealand at Royal Bafokeng and Japan versus Denmark at the same venue. I really enjoyed meeting with the game’s star players. This was a dream come true for me and I retired happily soon after.’’

Pick in Russia - France

Matthew Booth

“For me, Germany’s 7-1 demolition of hosts Brazil in 2014 in the semi-finals takes the crown. These are two big teams that were going head-to-head for the global price and how the Germans controlled the game was of world class. Paul Gascoigne crying his eyes out after getting a yellow in the semis of the 1990 World Cup in Italy which meant he would possibly miss the final was quite emotional. Shabba’s opening goal and the first on African soil versus Mexico in 2010 was something to cherish especially looking at the significance of the goal. It was one of the best I’ve seen in the World Cup. I doubt anyone can forget Argentina’s Diego Maradona’s Hand of God versus the English in the quarter-finals in Mexico 1986. These were two countries that had a historic rivalry in war. So the fashion and the significance that Maradona scored the goal actually meant a lot both on and off the pitch. Oman Biyeks’ goal stunned Maradona’s Argentina in 1990 with Roger Milla coming out of retirement to demolish Columbia. Before that World Cup, there had never been an African team in a global stage but the Cameroonians took on the world and showed their intentions, especially after Milla’s recall by the president.’’

Pick in Russia - Argentina

Maimane Phiri

“It is every player’s dream to represent their country in a World Cup, so I am glad I made my debut in 1998 in France. It was a huge moment when Benni McCarthy scored the country’s first ever goal against the hosts. Even the draw that we managed to get against Spain was something special considering that people didn’t give us a chance. It is without a doubt that we as South Africans hosted one of the best sporting events ever in 2010. The appearance by former president Nelson Mandela in the opening ceremony will always live in the hearts.”

Pick in Russia - Germany

Daniel Bennett

“The 2010 World Cup will go down in the memory lane as it was on African soil, especially if you look at the infrastructure such as the FNB Stadium, Moses Mabhida and Cape Town. For me, I was also fortunate to get a ticket to the final between Spain and Netherlands in the afternoon prior to kick-off. I also cannot forget the match between Argentina and England in the 1986 World Cup where Diego Maradona dribbled past six defenders to score one of the most beautiful goals in history.”

Pick in Russia - Belgium

Daniel Bennett says the 1986 World Cup stands out with Diego Maradona being one of the standout performers. Photo: BackpagePix

Sunday Independent