As a participant, Mark Fish gained a number of honours at Orlando Pirates, loved a spell in Serie A with Lazio and earned cult standing for Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic within the Premier League.

But arguably his best achievement as an expert got here whereas enjoying within the yellow and inexperienced of South Africa on the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

South Africa had spent the earlier three a long time within the worldwide footballing wilderness having been expelled from FIFA as a consequence of apartheid. But by 1991, issues had been starting to alter with the formation of a brand new multi-racial South African Soccer Affiliation.

Although Bafana Bafana didn’t qualify for the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, they earned a spot on the finals mechanically two years later as a late substitute for unique hosts Kenya.

Even so, the event curtain-raiser in opposition to Cameroon represented one thing of a baptism of fireside for the hosts, with the Indomitable Lions World Cup regulars and one of many continent’s strongest groups.

But Fish says that having such an enormous recreation to focus helped stave off any speak of wider ambitions for the event. “Clearly we needed to do in addition to we might,” he says. “However we simply went into that opening recreation in opposition to Cameroon, saying to ourselves, ‘Simply recover from the primary hurdle.’”

Bafana Bafana handed that first take a look at with flying colors, working out 3-0 winners, courtesy of objectives from Phil Masinga, Mark Williams and John Moshoeu.

“We might have scored 5 – 6 in opposition to the primary ranked crew on the continent,” Fish remembers. “After that, we actually felt we might go additional within the event.”

Even then, they went into the subsequent recreation feeling with expectations low. A single aim from Williams secured a 1-0 win over Angola and assured South Africa prime spot within the group. That arrange a tricky quarter-final in opposition to Algeria with Fish acknowledging that the “stress was starting to construct” by this level.

Although a much-changed South Africa crew had gone down 1-0 to Egypt of their ultimate group recreation, Algeria proved by far their hardest opponents but in a topsy-turvy recreation which, in fact, might have gone both method.

“They had been troublesome to play in opposition to,” Fish says. “Very properly organised and so they performed very a lot the outdated defensive European type of soccer. It was a very wet, moist day too and the stadium was perhaps 1 / 4 full.”

Fish remembers South Africa supervisor Clive Barker telling him his “job was to defend.” So naturally, he opened the scoring, pouncing on a free ball within the field to stab the ball previous Omar Hamenad within the 72nd minute.

South Africa fans during the AFCON 1996 final etween South Africa and Tunisia. FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, February 1996.
South Africa followers throughout the AFCON 1996 ultimate between South Africa and Tunisia. FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, February 1996.

Although primarily a defender, Fish recurrently discovered himself pushing ahead so as to add an additional dimension to the South African assault on the finals. It was a behavior that proved helpful, even when Fish remembers Barker despairing of it.

“He can be pulling his hair out, not wanting me to go ahead,” Fish explains. “However I performed as a striker till I used to be 17. It was solely after I signed for an expert crew and so they requested me to play in defence, that I switched. I nonetheless had that intuition to wish to rating objectives.”

In the end Barker was compelled to deploy holding midfielder and future Barnsley participant Eric Tinkler as cowl throughout his star defender’s common forays.

As fond a reminiscence as his first worldwide aim could have been, Fish didn’t have lengthy to have fun, with Algeria levelling issues up simply 12 minutes later by means of Tarek Lazizi.

However a frantic ultimate quarter-hour noticed South Africa come roaring again with Moshoeu scoring a spectacular aim to seal a 2-1 victory that left the crew and the nation as some time dreaming of extra success on the sporting stage, only a yr after the Springboks lifted the Rugby Union World Cup on residence soil.

“By the semi-final, many of the nation was watching Bafana Bafana and cheering us on,” Fish remembers. “We made the nation extra conscious of who Bafana Bafana had been. Everybody knew who the Springboks had been, however because the event grew, we made the remainder of the nation conscious.”

A semi-final showdown with Ghana, a crew spearheaded by Leeds cult hero Tony Yeboah, represented what Fish describes because the “largest take a look at” of their event credentials.

Fortuitously, in Lucas Radebe, South Africa had their very own Leeds legend to name on. A future Bafana Bafana captain who had recovered from a critical knee damage to play on the event, Fish recalled Radebe’s quiet affect on the pitch.

“He was not a verbal particular person. He led by instance,” he says. “He was not going to shout and scream like some do. It was an honour to play with him.”

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READ: Seven of the PL’s best AFCON icons: Radebe, Gyan, Okocha…

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Fish regarded that recreation with Ghana as one thing akin to a de facto ultimate. “That was a very good Ghanaian crew. No disrespect to Tunisia [who they played in the final], nevertheless it felt like whoever gained out of us and Ghana would elevate the trophy.”

By this level, the stress was constructing. Fish remembers feeling that the sport was larger than the crew, the followers and perhaps even the nation as an entire.

“Sadly, due to South Africa’s historical past and politics, complete generations of phenomenal footballers didn’t get to play on the world stage,” he says.

“So ‘96, was not just for us as footballers that had been coming into the sport, it was footballers from the 60s, 70s, 80s that weren’t in a position to characterize the nationwide crew. It was about extra than simply soccer for us.”

It was one other future Premier League star who made the essential affect in opposition to Ghana within the semi. Already 1-0 up because of a aim from star man Mosheou, barely a minute had gone within the second half when a younger Shaun Bartlett fired residence the essential second to provide the hosts respiration area.

Although Ghana pushed for a method again into the sport, Radebe, Fish and firm stored the Black Stars at bay earlier than Mosheou bagged his second and South Africa’s third to seal a well-known 3-0 win.

Regardless of the scores staying stage till the 73rd minute, there was a way of inevitability about South Africa’s conquer Tunisia within the ultimate. Mark Williams had struggled for type at Wolves, however right here he was the hero, coming off the bench to attain twice in two minutes.

Although Fish scored his first aim for South Africa on the event, his fondest reminiscences stay lifting that trophy at Soccer Metropolis in Johannesburg within the presence of Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

“What we had achieved, for the nation, was extra than simply soccer,” he says. “It fed into Mandela’s thought of Madiba magic. He needed to deliver the nation collectively by means of sports activities and he actually achieved that.”

FW de Klerk, President Nelson Mandela and Issa Hayatou, CAF President, congratulating captain Neil Trovey on the 1996 AFCON finals. FNB Stadium, Johannesburg, February 1996.

The one tinge of unhappiness Fish feels is for the very fact South Africa didn’t go on to realize extra with the gifted technology of gamers that started to filter by means of. Gamers like Benni McCarthy, Steven Piennar and Quinton Fortune.

“Sadly, it’s at all times about ’96 and what we achieved,” he says.

South Africa would go on to achieve the ultimate of the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations, shedding 2-0 to Egypt, and regardless of qualifying for the subsequent two World Cups, would narrowly miss out on reaching the knockout section.

Whereas Nigeria is usually touted because the African aspect that didn’t stay as much as their appreciable expertise, the identical might simply be stated about Bafana Bafana.

Fish places that right down to a failure to retain Barker, the architect of the nationwide crew’s success on the 1996 AFCON.

A mainstay of the South African home soccer scene who earned the nickname “The Canine” throughout his 40-year stint within the recreation, Barker resigned after South Africa’s disappointing efficiency on the 1997 Confederations Cup.

“He was all the things you would need from a nationwide crew coach and was much more tactically conscious than most individuals gave him credit score for,” Fish stated.

“Clive motivated us and made it really feel like we may lead any crew on the earth and we actually gave our utmost for him on the sphere. He was a father determine and that led to us being like a household of warriors on the sphere, all of us regarded out for one another.”

Although Fish acknowledges Barker’s substitute, Jona Somo, did a commendable job in getting them to the 1998 AFCON ultimate, he’s much less complimentary in regards to the man that then stepped in to take South Africa to the 1998 World Cup, Philippe Troussier.

“The federation determined they wanted a overseas coach and put in Troussier who, for me, was one of many worst coaches I’ve ever performed for,” he stated. “I’ve nothing in opposition to him, personally, it was simply the best way he handled gamers and the way he checked out play.

“If we had had Clive, an area coach who knew the gamers, I feel we might have performed a bit higher at that World Cup. Clive resigning had a big effect on South Africa as a footballing nation.”

Certainly, since 1997, South Africa have had no fewer than 15 completely different managers or caretaker managers in cost, with a quantity finishing a number of stints. Regardless of internet hosting the World Cup in 2010, a return to the glory days of the Nineteen Nineties appears a great distance off – South Africa didn’t qualify for AFCON 2021.

“We’re enjoying catch-up to the remainder of the continent in the mean time,” Fish says.

“As a result of we had been hiring and firing coaches there’s been no actual nationwide crew growth. Whether or not it’s from the president of the federation or inside the federation with the gamers and coaches, ex-players and coaches, we have to work in direction of a typical aim and make the crew the satisfaction of the nation once more.”

By Jack Beresford

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