While its current football association is one of the youngest worldwide, South Africa has produced no shortage of footballing stars that have contributed immensely to the game both on the international stage and in top domestic leagues around the world.
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5) John Moshoeu
John Moshoeu didn’t begin playing international football until he was 28. But it didn’t take “Shoes”, as he was known, long to make his mark on South African football. His four goals in South Africa’s victorious 1996 African Cup of Nations run were good enough for second overall in the tournament. He would make up part of the core that guided South Africa to their first World Cup in 1998, and finish tied for 7th all-time in caps with 73.
His club career saw him bounce around to four different clubs in Turkey, where he had the honor of winning a league title in 2000/01 with Fenerbahçe and a Cup title with Kocaelispor in 1996/97. After 10 years in Turkey, the attacking mid would return to play in South Africa, where he remains the oldest goal scorer in PSL history thanks to a goal with AmaZulu just under age 42.
4) Mark Fish
Like many of the great South African players on our list, defender Mark Fish began his career with one of South Africa’s most famous clubs. With the Orlando Pirates, he helped his side win the league in 1994 and the CAF Champions League in 1995 before making a move to Europe. Fish found a home in England with the Premier League’s Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic, for whom he made over 100 appearances with each and became a fan favourite of many.
For Bafana Bafana, “Feesh” is perhaps remembered being part of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations-winning team where he was named to the CAF Team of Tournament, an honor he also received in 1998 (when RSA would be tournament runner-ups). The shutdown defender was also part of the 1998 World Cup Squad in France.
3) Quinton Fortune
Legendary left back and midfielder Quinton Fortune took a different path to Europe, however. Instead of hoping to get noticed in the PSL, Fortune moved to Europe as a 14-year old and spent his first few professional years in Spain. His performance caught the attention of one Sir Alex Ferguson, who brought the Cape Town-native to Manchester United, where he remained on a rotation-basis or seven seasons and was part of three Premier League-winning squads.
The most famous of Fortune’s 48 caps for for his country came in the group stages of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he netted a late PK equaliser to help RSA earn a 2-2 draw against Paraguay. That same tournament he earned Man of the Match honors in South Africa’s first ever World Cup win, a 1-0 victory over Slovenia.
2) Lucas Radebe
Even heroes have heroes, and famously, Lucas Radebe was Nelson Mandela’s. The lanky midfielder was part of South Africa’s most famous starting XIs, including the 1996 squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first and (still) only time. He was also instrumental in getting Bafana Bafana to the 1998 and 2002 World Cups where he served as captain during both tournaments.
Radebe was also a successful club captain, particularly in England at Leeds United where he made over 200 appearances. With Radebe serving as captain, Leeds experienced some of their greatest successes in recent history, including a third place finish in the Premier League and qualification to the 2000-01 UEFA Champions League where they advanced all the way to the semi-finals. After his playing career ended, “The Chief” was instrumental on the bid committee that brought the 2012 World Cup to South Africa.
1) Benni McCarthy
Even though he went long spells without appearing for them, the top goalscorer in Bafana Bafana history is Benni McCarthy with 32 goals in 80 appearances from 1997-2012. He first made national team headlines as a 20-year old in the 1998 African Cup of Nations, where he was the joint top scorer of the tournament with seven goals. He can also lay claim to scoring for his country in both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
But more notable (and consistent) was McCarthy’s club career, which saw him tour around a number of the top leagues in Europe such as the Dutch Eredivisie, Spanish La Liga, and English Premier League. However, his most successful stay came in Portugal with FC Porto, where he led the club in scoring in 2003-04 and 2004-05. Famously, he was also on the squad that won the 2004 UEFA Champions League (making him the only South African to do so) as well ones that won two Portuguese Liga titles.