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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 11:26 UK

Tovey inspired by 1996 triumph

By Ed Aarons
in Johannesburg

Neil Tovey
A jubilant Tovey lifts the African Nations Cup trophy in 1996

If history had run a slightly different course, Neil Tovey could have had his name up in the Hollywood lights.

The story of the Springboks' Rugby World Cup triumph in 1995 ensured captain Francois Pienaar was immortalised on the silver screen as Invictus was eventually nominated for several Academy Awards.

A little more than seven months after Pienaar received the William Webb Ellis trophy from President Nelson Mandela, Durban-born Tovey found himself in a similar position.

Having battled through to the final of the African Nations Cup, a 2-0 victory over Tunisia saw the Bafana Bafana skipper presented the trophy by Mandela in front of 90 000 adoring fans at Soccer City.

For many South Africans, the success of Tovey's truly multi-racial side was the real moment of reconciliation, although it is unlikely it will ever be given the same importance as their rugby counterparts thanks to Messrs Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

I feel that now most players are more concerned about looking after themselves

Neil Tovey

That is probably why Tovey sounded surprised when asked who he would like to play himself should the class of 1996 ever be handed the same star treatment.

"I've never really thought about it. Maybe Richard Gere or someone like that?"

On a more serious note, however, the effect of the African Nations Cup triumph had on the country is something that Tovey is acutely aware of.

"That day put South African football on the map. Everyone came together and everything worked for us.

"Winning the tournament set up the entire team for the rest of our lives.

"The rugby success a few months before created a vibe among the sporting codes and there was a sense when we went into the tournament that we couldn't let them have all the limelight.

"We knew it was our chance to put football on the map in this country and we had a lot of success, mainly because of the different colours and creeds that were represented in the team."

What made the victory all the more remarkable was the fact that South Africa had only returned to international football in July 1992.

Tovey told BBC Sport that winning the competition with such an inexperienced side was down to the spirit created by coach Clive Barker.

He said: "It was a very special group of guys who were very strong in the mind. Wherever we travelled in Africa for qualification, nothing would get to us and we could rely on each other.

"The team spirit was exceptional and a real bond existed between us that meant we stood by each other all the time, whereas I feel that now most players are more concerned about looking after themselves.

"Everyone now seems scared to make mistakes and that means they don't express themselves how they should."

All of which brings us nicely onto the prospects for Bafana Bafana at this year's World Cup.

As the captain of the only senior South African team to have ever competed in a major international tournament on home soil, Tovey should have a word or two of advice for Carlos Alberto Parreira's squad.

"I think the camps that Parreira has taken the players on will be a great help," he says.

"The most important thing is to get a good start against Mexico, just like we did against Cameroon in 1996, and then we have a great chance.

"We have to be confident and believe in the players and that they can do it."

"I can't wait. It's going to be a really special occasion and one that I would have loved to be involved in as a player."

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see also
Fifa wants Mandela at World Cup
23 Apr 10 |  African
Bafana Bafana draw with N. Korea
22 Apr 10 |  African
Bafana encouraged by Brazil trip
05 Apr 10 |  African
World Cup is our Everest - Parreira
08 Dec 09 |  African

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