South Africa

For most of its tumultuous history, the South African national team was forbidden from entering any major competitions. This effective suspension was brought by the apartheid regime in the country, which lasted from 1948 to the early ‘90s. Since its reestablishment as a football nation, South Africa won one Africa Cup of Nations and participated in three World Cups. In addition, they have been successful in the COSAFA competition. They’re recognized by their traditional yellow-green kits and the “Bafana Bafana” nickname.

Main trophies

Africa Cup of Nations: 1

Player records

Most games played:Aaron Mokoena (107)
Top goalscorer: Benni McCarthy (31)




From the early years of football in South Africa up until the end of the apartheid, the sport was affected by racial segregation. The dominant association was the all-white Football Association of South Africa (FASA). In 1906, the FASA team played a series of 12 friendlies in South America, winning 11 of them with a goal difference of 60:7.

In 1956, South Africa was one of four countries -- along with Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia -- to establish the Confederation of African Football (CAF). However, South Africa’s constitution meant that the country could only send an all-white or an all-black team to the first AFCON in 1957. The other three countries disagreed with this viewpoint, and as a result, South Africa was disqualified from the competition.

In 1958, South Africa was officially banned from the CAF. The FASA was admitted into the FIFA the same year but was given one year to comply with FIFA’s regulations. The association failed to do so and was formally suspended from FIFA. This suspension lasted until 1991, when the fall of the apartheid system paved the way to the foundation of a new multi-racial South African football association.


Crashing the scene

After missing out on the 1994 AFCON, the new-look South Africa was chosen as the host country of the 1996 version of the competition. In their first official match, they trumped Cameroon 3-0. A second victory against Angola led them to the knockout stage, where they defeated Algeria and Ghana on the way to the finals. In the final match, a brace by Mark Williams was enough to defeat Tunisia 2-0 and win the title at their first major competition.

In 1998, Egypt stopped South Africa from repeating as champions by beating them 2-0 in the final. Later that year, the team entered its first World Cup. In their debut, however, they were unable to put up much of a resistance to hosts and eventual champions France, losing 0-3. They performed better in the other two matches in their group, but two draws against Denmark and Saudi Arabia weren’t enough to qualify for the knockout stage.

By 2002, South Africa was considered to be a growing power on the African continent. At the World Cup held that year, they drew 2-2 with Paraguay and defeated Slovenia 1-0 to find themselves holding the second place before the final group round. They went on to lose 2-3 to Spain in a thriller, finishing with 4 points. Meanwhile, Paraguay defeated Slovenia 3-1, giving them a favorable goal differential and knocking South Africa out of the competition.

World Cup hosts

Following this relatively successful campaign, South Africa entered a period of decline. From 2002 to 2009, Bafana Bafana went through 10 head coaches, but this had no real impact on the results. In 2010, the team reached its lowest point since being readmitted, failing to qualify for the AFCON. However, the 2010 World Cup -- which they hosted -- was an opportunity for improvement.

The run-up to the tournament instilled some optimism into the team’s fans, as South Africa was consistently competitive. This run of form carried to the tournament proper, as the team drew 1-1 in an exciting opener against Mexico. However, a 0-3 drubbing to Uruguay all but eliminated them from the competition. Despite a 2-1 victory against France in the final group round, Uruguay beating Mexico 1-0 meant that both South American teams would advance.

In later years, South Africa continued to struggle to establish its authority. They went on to host the 2013 AFCON but were eliminated by Mali in the quarter-finals. At the 2019 AFCON, they managed to knock out the favored Egypt in the round of 16 before losing to Nigeria in the quarter-finals. They failed to qualify for either the 2014 or 2018 World Cup.

FIFA World Cup results

South Africa has participated three times in the World Cup (FIFA World Cup qualification not included).

South Africa's performances in the World Cup
Year Result
2022 Not qualified
2018 Not qualified
2014 Not qualified
2010 Group Stage
2006 Not qualified
2002 Group Stage
1998 Group Stage
1994 Not qualified
1990 Banned*
1986 Banned
1982 Banned
1978 Banned
1974 Banned
1970 Banned
1966 Banned
1962 Banned
1958 Banned
1954 Did not participate
1950 Did not participate
1938 Did not participate
1934 Did not participate
1930 Did not participate

* Due to the apartheid regime.

By Martin Wahl


South Africa national football team logoThe logo matches the color of the team's kit and the name of the country is written in the low banner. The stylized flower in yellow is the King Protea plant, which is South Africa's national flower.