Phil Masinga, the former South Africa and Leeds United striker who scored the goal that took his country to the World Cup for the first time, died Sunday. He was 49.
The South African Football Association said Masinga died in a Johannesburg hospital from a "cancer related disease" just a month after being diagnosed.
He was transferred last month from a hospital in his home town of Klerksdorp to the hospital in Johannesburg, SAFA said.
Masinga made 58 appearances for South Africa but is best remembered for the fierce long-range strike against Republic of Congo at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg in 1997 that saw Bafana Bafana, then the champions of Africa, qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France.
It sparked joyous scenes in South Africa, a country still basking in the afterglow of the fall of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as president three years earlier.
At 6-foot-4, Masinga was the centre forward for the South African team that won the African Cup of Nations in 1996, a multi-racial squad that made South Africans feel good about their soccer again after years of isolation under apartheid. He was in the team in 1992 when South Africa played its first game after being allowed back into international soccer.
"We have lost a giant of South African Football. This is a sad day for our football," SAFA President Danny Jordaan said.
Jordaan said he visited Masinga in the hospital a week ago and had been planning to visit him again this week. Jordaan said the goal against Republic of Congo was "still the most celebrated goal in the country."
Masinga's goal-scoring prowess with Pretoria-based club Mamelodi Sundowns led to a move to Leeds, then in England's top flight, in 1994.
He was part of the same deal that also took compatriot Lucas Radebe to Leeds.
Reportedly, Radebe was only part of the deal to keep Masinga, viewed as the more valuable asset, happy in a foreign land.
As it turned out, Masinga was at Leeds for two years while Radebe stayed nine and went on to captain the team and make more than 200 appearances, earning a place as a club favourite.
Masinga didn't deliver the goals Leeds hoped for but he was still immensely popular. A common theme among teammates who remembered Masinga was his positivity — always cheerful, always smiling.
Writing on Twitter, former Leeds defender Tony Dorigo recalled Masinga and Radebe arriving in chilly Yorkshire with "smiles and hope" and thermal underwear.
Current Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani tweeted: "We love to remember you with a big smile and a white jersey on! R.I.P. Phil."
After Leeds, Masinga played in Switzerland, Italy and the United Arab Emirates in his 12-year professional career and had his best spell with Italian club Bari.
Now in the fourth tier in Italy and a long way from the Serie A team Masinga played for, Bari players still held a minute's silence for Masinga at their match on Sunday.
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