Class of 96 spur South Africa on

THERE will never be a more opportune time for Bafana Bafana players to display their skills than at the World Cup that kicks off today.

THERE will never be a more opportune time for Bafana Bafana players to display their skills than at the World Cup that kicks off today.

That is the view of former Bafana players Eric Tinkler and Philemon Masinga.

Tinkler, with Linda Buthelezi, formed a human wall in the heart of Bafana midfield in their heyday. They were the main ball suppliers to nimble-footed Doctor Khumalo and the mercurial Shoes Moshoeu.

Khumalo was the man in Bafana's last win of a worthy tournament, the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations.

"It is absolutely vital that we win our first game. The World Cup is a big tournament, and you can't even compare it to either the rugby World Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations," the duo said.

That group made its intentions clear from the outset by dismantling Cameroon 3-0 in the opening match in front of a packed Soccer City Stadium.

From then on they were unstoppable, bar one defeat against Egypt, until they lifted the trophy at the same venue on February 3 1996.

"We were an ambitious bunch of players and knew what we wanted to achieve. We believed in our own ability. The fact that we had been isolated (during apartheid) for years spurred us on."

Masinga, who scored the first goal in that match, said: "We were a bit nervous going into the tournament, but the practice match we played against Germany at the Johannesburg Stadium gave us hope and belief that we could do well.

"Also, the visit by Mandela before the first match inspired us a lot, and that is why we ended up doing so well."

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