The Best Underdog Moments In South African Football

Even though South Africa’s presence in the football world isn’t as imposing as in other sports like rugby and cricket, South Africa has still found a way to deliver some amazing talent and provide pivotal moments throughout the years. Who doesn’t love a good story, right? One where the unsung hero rose up, and the underdog took home the win. That’s precisely what we see when it comes to South African football.

South Africa has been left out of a significant number of the most prominent international football leagues, games, and cups in its modern history. However, with the arrival of the new South Africa in 1994, this incredible country has established a good foundation for itself on the worldwide stage, through the endeavors of its many fine athletes.

The Best Underdog Moments In South African Football

Throughout South Africa’s football history, the nation has shown some world-class ability, and avid sports supporters hope to predict optimistic results for future matches. There has never been a better time or opportunity to reflect on a few of South Africa’s sporting legends!

So, keep reading down below for a quick list of some of South African football’s pluckiest underdogs who have carved their names into the records of South African sporting history.

5. Neil Tovey

Tovey might not be such a well-known player as some of the others further down this list, but as South Africa’s very first captain, he has an eternal place in our football history.

That said, this fact was not the sum of Tovey’s stellar contribution to Bafana Bafana. He may have gone on to lose the captaincy, but he figured out how to get it back just in time to lead the Generation of 1996, the Nation Builders, all the way to the African championship.

Tovey was the first player to win 50 caps for the South Africa national team, and his leadership skills were the bedrock on which he built that achievement. He inspired everyone around him to overcome obstacles and stay unyielding in the face of threatening opposition. His playing career spread out over twenty years, and he also played for the Kaizer Chiefs and the AmaZulu soccer team.

The Best Underdog Moments In South African Football

4. Lucas Radebe

Growing up and fostering his skills in the 1980s in South Africa, Radebe almost immediately became famous for being one of the most promising talents in South African football. Although only a teenager, Radebe laid a good foundation for himself as a strong midfield performer, before continuing to center-half, where he was to spend most of his professional career. After some time, Radebe moved to the Kaizer Chiefs, with his future looking bright and brilliant.

Regardless of a huge setback involving a gunshot wound, Radebe found a way to make a full recovery and got back to playing form. He eventually found himself at Leeds Football Club, where he spent a fruitful 11 years. Radebe’s career highlight was guiding his native team to triumph in the Cup of Nations competition – a genuinely fantastic story for this persevering and unquestionably lucky underdog. Regardless of never having won a major league title, Radebe is still widely known as one of the greatest Leeds players.

3. Benni McCarthy

Benni McCarthy is the only South African soccer player ever to win the European Cup/Champions League. That reality alone, without a doubt, earns him a spot on this list. Having delighted in early success with Ajax, the forward then became a member of Jose Mourinho’s celebrated FC Porto side. He later moved his prolific penalty box form to England, scoring impressive goals for the Blackburn Rovers.

The Best Underdog Moments In South African Football

Tragically, his football career ended in public shame at West Ham United and afterward, though less significantly, with Orlando Pirates. The final catastrophe for one of Africa’s most feared forwards was the passing up of the World Cup, on home soil, in 2010.

Regardless of this, McCarthy featured for Bafana at two Mundials and is still South Africa’s record-breaking top scorer. Even though he never won the African title with South Africa, he was still named the most outstanding person in the 1998 version, winning the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.

2. Patrick Ntsoelengoe

Given the social and political conditions in South Africa before 1994, the history of South African sports is considered on occasion to be a history filled with lost talent. With many South Africans disenfranchised from full participation in political and social life, playing professional sports was frequently an unrealizable dream for some South Africans during this period.

This can be specifically applied to the story of Patrick Ntsoelengoe. With South Africa prohibited from competing internationally by FIFA until 1992, Ntsoelengoe’s international playing record saw him achieve only one cap, which he won in 1977 in a 7-0 triumph over Rhodesia, even though his playing career ran from 1971 to 1984.

After starting with the Kaizer Chiefs, Ntsoelengoe eventually moved to the United States, where he experienced advantageous positions in Minnesota, Denver and Toronto. Ntsoelengoe’s story is one of unrealized success. Despite being viewed as a genuinely world-class talent by football pundits and analysts alike, the political conditions of the day meant that he would never wholly realize his potential. Consequently, Ntsoelengoe epitomizes the underdog spirit that countless local South African players had to hold onto as they battled against a system that oppressed them.

1. Doctor Khumalo

Known as a ‘Nation Builder’ who won the Africa Cup of Nations title on home soil in 1996, only a year after South Africa’s history-making Rugby World Cup win, Doctor Khumalo immediately became a local big-name through his sporting endeavors.

Being a star of South African football during the 1990s, Khumalo gathered 50 caps playing for his home team and acquired the reputation of one of Africa’s best midfielders. This incredible career run additionally saw him representing South Africa in the 1998 World Cup in France.

Even though he never moved to the European football leagues, Khumalo was genuinely a hometown idol. With more than 400 league appearances and various tournament and homegrown title wins to his name for his much-adored Kaizer Chiefs, it is not difficult to perceive why Khumalo inspired such countless fans.

In this sense, Doctor Khumalo perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the underdog that South African athletes in this generation had to display. Despite the political and social conditions stacked against him at the beginning of his career, through pure talent, grit, and determination, Khumalo laid down his foundation and became a South African sporting legend.



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