Neil Tovey’s Triumphant AFCON Opening

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Bafana Bafana’s 3-0 drubbing of Cameroon in the opening match of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations at the FNB Stadium.  First half goals by Phil Masinga and Mark Williams were followed up by a John Moshoeu second stanza strike to set Clive Barker’s charges on their way.  The Sports Eagle’s Joy Moloi sat down with Neil Tovey to discuss the opening match of the tournament that ultimately provided the platform for the national team to go on to its finest hour.

Joy Moloi: What was the pressure like in the build-up of the game?
Neil Tovey: The key was for the players to settle down and give the fans what they came there to see.  At that time there was pressure on us because we were the hosts and had to win.  The South African rugby team had also won the 1995 Rugby World Cup so it was imperative for us to not disappoint in the opening match.
JM: How was the match itself?
NT: It was a great match.  The fans were happy.  The excitement and atmosphere of the crowd was good.  From the opening goal we never thought we would get the second and third against one of Africa’s giants in football.  Once Phil Masinga got the first we did not relax and that’s why we were able to capitalise.
JM: What were the key moments of the match? 
NT: Our key moments were to take control of the game.  To get the first goal was key.  Once we had that we knew it was important to defend it or capitalise.  The opening goal helped us to settle down.
JM: What was the atmosphere like?
NT: All eyes were on South Africa at that time.  Nelson Mandela was our president.  The world wanted to see if South Africa was able to demonstrate a peaceful tournament.  Many South Africans watched football and it was the first time we hosted.  We did not disappoint the fans and our spectators.  The FNB Stadium was full and that also gave us a good boost. 
JM: What was your key role as captain?
NT: As captain it was important for me to motivate the players in the opening match, make sure they are focused and to win of course.
JM: And the feeling in the squad after the opening victory?
NT: To win 3-0 in the opening match was great, but we knew we still had more games to win to reach the final.  The team, as a whole, and the fans were happy.  Our nation was full of joy, not only for the opening match, but throughout the tournament, besides the loss against Egypt.  Our role was to continue after our first win.
Tovey and his team went on to defeat Angola in the next group match and secure a quarter-final against Algeria before routing Ghana in the semi-finals and toppling Tunisia in the final to memorably lift the Africa Cup of Nations for the only time to date.