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S. African Football Coach Credited with Uniting Team - 2002-06-09

South African football (soccer) fans are celebrating their national team's first ever victory at the World Cup finals. South Africa edged Slovenia Saturday 1-0 in Daegu, South Korea. The South Africans need only a draw in their next match Wednesday against Spain in Daejeon, South Korea, to advance to the second round. He reports that South Africa's head coach is receiving a lot of credit for uniting the team.

During his playing days, Jomo Sono was one of South Africa's all-time greats in football. But because of the apartheid policies then in effect, he never had a chance to showcase his skills on an international level for South Africa.

Now, Sono is enjoying the spotlight as he guides the national team, nicknamed "Bafana Bafana," (a Zulu term meaning, "The Boys") to a possible berth in the World Cup's second round.

Sono took over as coach of the South African team after the African Cup of Nations tournament earlier this year in Mali. He says in Mali, the South Africans were a team divided along racial lines. Coach Sono says he told the players that they are all South Africans, no matter their color.

Speaking after Saturday's victory over Slovenia, Sono praised his players. "I'm very proud of them and I think the country should salute these boys," he said. "They've done history today, in winning for the first time at the World Cup. And maybe they will qualify for the second round. I'm proud, I'm happy, I salute the boys. And also, I would like to thank the South African fans who traveled here for the World Cup. Their voices have made a difference. They were the 12th player on the field."

On the field, South Africa's team captain is defender Lucas Radebe. He says Coach Sono has united the team and provided South Africa with great leadership. South Africa made its first World Cup appearance in 1998 in France, where it failed to win a match. Radebe says the team has already surpassed its initial goals at the 2002 World Cup, and now hopes to reach the round of 16.