Johannesburg, South Africa | AFP | Former South Africa star Philemon ‘Chippa’ Masinga died Sunday aged 49 in a Johannesburg hospital from cancer, the national football association said in a statement.
Retired South Africa captain Lucas Radebe, who played with Masinga at then English top-flight club Leeds United in the 1990s, said the country has lost a “great legend”.
“For us as Africans it was a great experience,” Radebe told the BBC. “We were not used to the weather and we struggled a little bit — we kept each other warm at times.
“Phil was a big hit with the team and the players. I looked up to him and I think he inspired me the most. It was absolutely great the way he adapted to the situation.
“He was easy to get along with and he was most respected at the club as a person.”
Football association president Danny Jordaan said: “We have lost a giant of South African football. This is a sad day and I am gutted.
“I saw him last Sunday before I flew to Dakar (for Confederation of African Football activities) and although Phil was not feeling well, he was in good spirits.
“Before saying goodbye, I promised ‘Chippa’ that I would visit him again sometime this week and now our hero has gone.”
Former Leeds team-mate Noel Whelan tweeted: “Really sad news to learn that a guy I spent so much time with, laughs and games together, has passed away.
“He was not just a friend and strike partner but one of the nicest, kindest guys I’ve met, was a pleasure and privilege to have known and played with you Phil.”
A physically formidable forward, he scored the goal that beat Congo Brazzaville 1-0 in Soweto and took Bafana Bafana (The Boys) to the 1998 World Cup in France.
Masinga ran on to a pass from midfield and slammed an unstoppable shot over the Congolese goalkeeper before a capacity 80,000 crowd, including then president Nelson Mandela.
Masinga was part of the South African ‘golden generation’ that won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations just four years after an apartheid-induced international ban was lifted.
Bafana qualified for the 1998 and 2002 World Cup tournaments, but the national team has been in steady decline since.
He played for local clubs Jomo Cosmos and Mamelodi Sundowns before moving abroad in 1994 to join Leeds.
Masinga also played for St Gallen in Switzerland, Salernitana and Bari in Italy and Al Wahda in the United Arab Emirates.
The attacker scored 18 goals in 58 international appearances between 1992 and 2001.