South Africans have plenty to play for with Tokyo 2020 in sight
A week ago, Bafana began their journey to the 2021 Cameroon continental finals away in north Africa, where they returned with their tails between their legs as they were defeated by Ghana in front of a sold-out crowd.
However, the revenge baton has since been handed to the SA junior team, who’ll have a last throw of the dice in their bid to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games via their third place play-off against the Young Black Stars at Cairo International Stadium this evening (6pm kick-off).
The South Africa Under-23s began their Olympics qualifiers on a mild note, drawing 1-1 with neighbours Zambia a fortnight ago.
They’d soon bounce back as they defeated Ivory Coast 1-0, before drawing with defending champions Nigeria in the last round of the Group B matches.
That result ensured that David Notoane’s men qualified for the semi-finals of the eight-nation qualifying tournament, where they clashed with hosts Egypt, who trounced them 3-0 to qualify for the final and the Olympics next year.
In the other semi-final, the Ivory Coast defeated Ghana as they joined Egypt in the final to become the second team from Africa to qualify for the Games.
The winners of the third place play-off will not only walk away with the bronze medal but they’ll join Egypt and Ivory Coast in Japan.
For the South Africans though, there’s plenty of motivation, including avenging Bafana’s loss to the Ghanaians.
But in the bigger scheme of things, the Under-23s are the nation’s only hope of being represented on the global stage with Banyana Banyana crashing out of their own Olympic qualifiers after they were handed a surprise defeat by Botswana.
Sure, Notoane’s men may have been blunt up front in this tournament, scoring their only goal from a set-piece, but the 50-year-old coach would have received an boost for today’s clash after managing to keep his entire squad, even though the Fifa break is over.
The availability of SuperSport United duo Sipho Mbule and Teboho Mokoena proved to be invaluable in the victory over Ivory Coast.
In that encounter, it took a delightful set-piece from Mokoena for the South Africans to grab all three points.
Notoane has to ensure that his strikers, such as Luther Singh, Kobamelo Kodisang, Keletso Makgalwa, Lyle Foster and Itumeleng Shopane, fire on all cylinders today.@mihlalibaleka