SA U23s face host Japan, World Cup champs France at Tokyo Olympics
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DURBAN - The South Africa Under-23 men’s team will face hosts Japan in the opening game of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 21 – following the Olympics Football Tournament draw in Zurich on Wednesday morning.
The South Africans are drawn in Group A alongside the hosts Japan, Mexico and France. This will be South Africa’s third - and second successive - qualification for the global showpiece after participating in the 2000 and 2016 editions in Sydney, Australia, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Coach David Notoane, who was responsible for guiding the South Africans to this year's edition of the global showpiece after finishing third, and walked away with bronze, in the Africa Championships in Egypt back in 2019, said they won’t be in the tournament to add numbers.
“We now know the identity of our opponents, finally. Tough draw but I think it’s a good draw if I look at the other groups. I think it's a good group, with good preparations, we can get out of and go to the knockout stage,” Notoane said after the draw.
“When I look at it, one is very happy with how the draw came up and we look forward to playing at the Tokyo Stadium, which is a plus, given it will be the base of the Olympics. So, we are excited with the draw and we look forward to our preparations now that we know our opponents.”
Since their maiden qualification in 2000 edition under the astute leadership of coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, the South Africans are yet to progress beyond the group stage of the competition – albeit holding eventual winners Brazil in a goalless draw in Rio under coach Owen Da Gama.
Notoane, though, is not leaving any stone unturned, with the likes of Percy Tau, Ronwen Williams and Themba Zwane, who are integral figures of Bafana Bafana, the senior men’s national team, headlining the seven overage players who been called-up to the 40-man preliminary squad.
Notoane can only select three overage players for his final 18-man squad, which will include four travelling substitutes to Tokyo. But he’s confident that if he gets all the players for the final squad, they’ll fight tooth and nail to return with a medal.
The Olympics Football Tournament, which will be held in six cities from July 21 - August 7, will start two days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, testing the International Olympic Committee's readiness to host these tournaments amid the Covid-19 implications.