Former Bafana Bafana midfielder Benedict Vilakazi has sprung a few surprises in his selected best 11 South African players to have featured at the World Cup.
“Tso” unfortunately missed out on the opportunity to represent his country at the 2002 global showpiece in Korea/Japan after being ruled out due to an injury.
The 1996 African champions have represented the continent at world football’s most famous trophy on three occasions – 1998, 2002, and 2010 but have missed out on four editions: in 2006, 2014, 2018, and 2022.
In 1998 in France, Bafana Bafana was one of five nations representing Africa and was pitted against France, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia in Group A.
Led by an unknown French-born coach in Phillipe Trousier, with the inclusion of little-known defender Pierre Issa, South Africa was trounced 3-0 by the hosts in the tournament opener but went unbeaten in their next two fixtures playing to a 1-1 draw against Denmark and a pulsating 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia, though it all ended their hopes of group stage progression after they finished third.
Four years later in Korea/Japan, Jomo Sono’s charges staged a remarkable comeback after trailing 2-0 against Paraguay within 55 minutes of their Group B opening encounter. Teboho Mokoena got a consolation goal in the 63rd minute before Quinton Fortune struck a 90th-minute penalty to salvage a point for South Africa.
Bafana recorded their first-ever victory at the World Cup when they stunned Slovenia 1-0, but got eliminated from the group stage on goal difference with Paraguay after falling to a narrow 3-2 defeat against Spain.
As host in 2010, South Africa became the first host nation to be eliminated in the group stages.
Under the tutelage of Brazilian tactician Carlos Alberto Parreira, Bafana Bafana could only manage a 1-1 draw against Mexico in their opening match before being hammered 3-0 by Uruguay. They then stunned mighty France with a 2-1 victory but failed to progress due to goal difference as the Mexicans and Uruguay booked their spots in the knockout stages.
Vilakazi was capped 31 times with two goals by South Africa and selected his best players to have played at the World Cup, consisting of players who featured in 1998, 2002, and 2010.
- GK – Hans Vonk (1998)
- CB – Lucas Radebe (1998 & 2002)
- CB – Aaron Mokoena (2010)
- LB – Tsepo Masilela (2010)
- RB – Helman Mkhalele (1998)
- CM – Steven Pienaar (2010)
- CM – William “Naughty” Mokoena (1998)
- LM – John “Shoes” Moshoeu (1998)
- RM – Brendan Augustine (1998)
- FW – Philemon “Chippa” Masinga (1998)
- FW – Benni McCarthy (1998 & 2002)
Vilakazi still holds the record as Orlando Pirates’ all-time leading top goalscorer with 58 goals from 170 appearances having featured for the Sea Robbers between 1997 and 2002.