23 yrs since McCarthy's historic arrival

SA National Teams

Today marks 23 years since a young Benni McCarthy announced his arrival on the senior international stage before going on to make history with Bafana Bafana.

4 June 1997 saw Benedict Saul McCarthy introduced as a substitute in a Nelson Mandela Challenge encounter against Netherlands at FNB Stadium.

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The then 19-year-old had just completed a breakthrough season with Cape Town Spurs in the PSL after also making a name for himself at the African Youth Championships in Morocco, and earned a place in Clive Barker's Bafana setup to face Ruud Gullit and company.

Scroll through the gallery above to view the timeline of Benni's Bafana career in a few images

"I made my debut coming on as a substitute against Holland under Clive Barker, when we lost 2-0 at FNB Stadium, I got a little cameo role for like five minutes at most," reflected McCarthy during an interview with SAFJA.

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This eventually led to the now 42-year-old going on to make history by scoring a record 31 goals, which started with his four-goal haul against Namibia a few months after his debut.

"My real [starting] debut came when Jomo [Sono] made me the important figure of the team against Namibia, when we went to play... I think it was the COSAFA Cup," he added, before opening up on that experience.

"I remember so well, he tricked me so good, saying when he was in his prime and at the top of his game, what he used to do, he used to wake up at 5am and then go for a run – like a 5km run – and that just set the tone for his day and relaxed him to have his best game.

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"So he advised me, if I wanted to have an unbelievable game, to do that. And me being young and ignorant, I bloody go and wake myself up at 5 o' clock!

“I remember I was rooming with Quinton [Fortune], and when my alarm went off, he was like, ‘What time is it? 5 o’clock? Ji*** Benzino, jy's vol k** [you’re full of rubbish] – did you wake me up [at] this time?' 

"I said, ‘No, go back to sleep, I'm just going to train quickly', because this Jomo told me he would go run at 5am and so I wanted to do exactly [the same].

“Because obviously I wanted to have brilliant games like Jomo used to have, and if that worked for him then it could work for me. So I got up and went to run like a muppet, and I was shattered on the journey to Namibia. 

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"Then eventually came the game, and to be fair, I had a pretty special game – I had an assist for Pollen [Ndlanya] and I had a screamer of a game but, unfortunately, we were on the losing end, and I remember the celebrations of the Namibians after beating us.

"They had this song, 'Banana Banana, Banana Banana...' and they were mocking us. So, when we heard we were playing them in the AFCON, I said to myself, 'If I'm in that AFCON squad, I'm going to make them eat their words, those bas****, for calling us Banana Banana.'"

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