Bafana’s WC debut, 20 years today

Following readmission into international football in 1992, South Africa narrowly missed out on 1994 World Cup qualification, ending second in their group by two points to eventual qualifiers Nigeria.

Yet Bafana would make amends four years later, enjoying a successful qualifying campaign which began with a 4-0 aggregate win over Malawi in the first round, which led to progression into the group stages.

There they met Congo, DR Congo and Zambia, and following four wins, a draw and just one loss, Bafana had secured their passage to France 1998, and a historic first appearance at the global showpiece.

Drawn in a tough Group C with host nation France, Asian counterparts Saudi Arabia as well as Denmark, South Africa lined up for their first-ever game at a World Cup on 12 June 1998.

The startling line-up that day was as follows:

Hans Vonk (GK), David Nyathi, Willem Jackson, Mark Fish, Lucas Radebe (c), Pierre Issa, Quinton Fortune, John Moshoeu, Phil Masinga, Brendan Augustine (Helman Mkhalele 56’), Benni McCarthy (Shaun Bartlett 89’).

It was a baptism of fire for the tournament debutants, who ended up going down 3-0 to the European giants, who opened the scoring through Christophe Dugarry in the first half, before a Pierre Issa own goal and a late added-time strike by a young Thierry Henry, with the final touch coming off Issa again, secured the win for Les Bleus, who went on to win the tournament after beating Brazil 3-0 in the final.

Bafana would draw 1-1 against Denmark in their next group stage game, with Benni McCarthy bagging the equaliser in that encounter, before drawing 2-2 in their last game against Saudi Arabia, with Shaun Bartlett hitting a brace in a game which saw three penalties being awarded.

The two points earned in Group C saw Bafana finish the pool in third place, two points behind runners up Denmark and a further five adrift of France, who both advanced to the knockout stages.

Thereafter, South Africa would only feature in two more World Cups – Korea/Japan 2002 and as hosts in 2010 – where they suffered group stage exits at both tournaments.