The first ever Southern African country to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals
1997 saw Bafana Bafana in action against the leading football nations of the world, including England, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Brazil, in friendly internationals which formed part of their ‘98 World Cup campaign. Fittingly, Bafana Bafana made their debut in Europe against England, the country with whom South Africa had had a long association dating back to the 1890s. This match attracted the second highest Audience Ratings for any televised show to date.
A landmark date in local footballing history was recorded on 16 August 1997 when Bafana Bafana beat Congo 1-0 at Soccer City to become the first ever Southern African country to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals (France ‘98). As African champions, Bafana Bafana represented the continent in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia, marking South Africa’s first appearance on the Asian continent. This tournament signalled the end of Clive Barker’s spell as coach and Neil Tovey’s tenure as captain.
Women’s football took on the semblance of professionalism for the first time when SAFA formed a women’s steering committee chaired by Nastasia Tsichlas, its first female executive committee member.
In addition to competitions at senior provincial level, an Under-19 level was introduced to form the core of future Olympic squads.
AmaGlug-Glug secured their first trophy in an international tournament, the Indian Ocean Tournament in Mauritius, where they beat Zimbabwe 1-0 in the final. This result marked their eighth consecutive win, the longest victory spell by a national age group team. The squad also played a number of friendly games against top opposition on a tour to Australia, Germany, Sweden and the USA.
The U-20 side made their debut in the African Youth Championship Finals where they finished runners-up to hosts Morocco after losing 1-0 in the final – thereby becoming the first of South Africa’s national sides to qualify for the finals of a FIFA World Championship. South Africa were drawn in the toughest group in the first round of the FIFA World Youth Championships in Malaysia, and finished
third in the group.
On the local scene Southern Transvaal successfully defended its Coca-Cola inter-provincial title in Pietermaritzburg with a victory over Natal Midlands. Madibane High School from Diepkloof, Soweto became the first school from the African continent to take part in the World U-18 Schools Soccer Cup. They reached the semi-finals where they lost against the host nation, Peru. Cape Town hosted the inaugural Under-14 Nike International Premier Cup World Finals, where SFF Juventus, a club side from Secunda, finished fifth out of twelve teams.
On the professional front, Orlando Pirates won the Iwisa Charity Spectacular as well as the BobSave Super Bowl, and Kaizer Chiefs won the inaugural Rothmans Cup – the richest cup competition in Africa with a purse of R1 million – by beating Sundowns in a replay. The Castle Premiership title was won by Durban-based Manning Rangers for the first time.
In Africa, Orlando Pirates qualified for the quarter-final group stage of the Champions Cup in 1997 and Jomo Cosmos advanced to the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup.