Africa's line-up in France next summer is now complete. Cameroon qualified yesterday for their third World Cup finals in succession to join South Africa, who joined the party on Saturday, and earlier qualifiers Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia.
For the South Africans, reaching the finals for the first time was an excuse to stage their biggest sporting party since victory in the rugby union World Cup two years ago. The crowd inside the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg appeared to exceed the official capacity of 80,000, and there were scenes of unrestrained joy at the end of Saturday's 1-0 win over the Republic of Congo.
The Leeds United defender Lucas Radebe captained the South African side, and the winning goal was scored in the 14th minute by his former Elland Road team-mate, Phil Masinga, who now plays for the Italian club, Bari.
"It was wonderful feeling to strike the ball and see it sail into the roof of the net. It was the greatest thrill of my life," Masinga said after scoring his 13th goal in 31 internationals.
Radebe was probably less happy after the match, though. He was one of seven South Africans booked and, along with Shaun Bartlett, will be suspended for their first match in France next summer.
South Africa were playing only their 52nd international since returning to world football after almost 30 years of apartheid-enforced isolation. "This is a day for all South Africans," said their coach, Clive Barker, after a tight match in which the Congolese had much of the midfield possession but failed to score the goals for the win they needed to top the group. "We dedicate this match to all the players of the past who were denied the opportunity to play international football," an emotional Barker said.
The goal came after a stray pass from the Congolese defender, Florent Baloki, was intercepted by Doctor Khumalo, whose pass set up Masinga for a fierce finish. Barnsley's Eric Tinkler and the Fulham goalkeeper, Andre Arendse, were also in South Africa's starting line-up.
In Harare yesterday, Cameroon secured Africa's fifth and final place in France by battling to a 2-1 away win over Zimbabwe. Patrick Mboma scored both goals for the visitors in the second half to ensure that Cameroon finished above Angola in their group.
Edelbert Dinah netted a late consolation for Zimbabwe, who fielded their reserve goalkeeper, Ernest Chirambadare, because Bruce Grobbelaar failed a pre-match fitness test on a knee injury. The former Liverpool custodian, who was cleared of match-fixing charges earlier this month, took his place as part of the coaching team instead, and refused to speak to reporters after the match.Reuse content