On Friday‚ as a youthful South African side line up to play Namibia in the Cosafa Castle Cup at Moruleng Stadium‚ it will be 25 years to the day since the country’s first international — a 1-0 win over Cameroon in Durban that marked the end of isolation and the start of an exciting chapter for SA’s most popular sport.

It was on July 7 1992 that the first Bafana side walked out at Kings Park Rugby Stadium wearing the country’s new gold, white and black strip — but in those days, still without a flag and anthem.

It was the release of future president Nelson Mandela that precipitated the return of SA to the international arena‚ two years before the political structures were overhauled.

Football was among the first sports to be banned from world sport because of SA’s apartheid policies, but once Mandela had been released‚ and the transformation process got under way‚ reintegration into the Fifa fold went quickly. At the 48th Fifa Congress in Zurich‚ SA’s membership was restored and within days, the country had entered the rigours of international competition‚ playing the three-match series against Cameroon.

The Indomitable Lions had just two years previously captured the imagination of football fans worldwide by becoming the first African side to reach the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

The opening game was on a chilly night‚ rare for the tropical climes of Durban in front of a disappointing turnout for a match millions of South African football fans had supposedly been waiting for for decades.

A strike by journalists at the SABC meant that there was no television coverage. The national anthems were played‚ but instead of the apartheid-era anthem of the time‚ Die Stem‚ the popular traditional worker’s song Shosholoza blared out of the PA system.

The game was no classic, with the South African players trying far too many tricks and the Cameroonians getting irritated and throwing their physical presence around. The wet surface did not help either.

Chances were few and it was the referee from Botswana‚ Jelas Masole‚ who proved the difference in the end.

He handed SA a late penalty‚ as if a welcome back gift from the world footballing community that Doctor Khumalo tucked away.

"When the ball hit the back of the net, the stadium went wild and I celebrated more out of relief than anything else‚" he recalled.


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