Quality ‘baby Bafana’ team
Here we go. South Africa hasn’t been this excited about the national Under-23 team since … well, let’s just say in a long time.
With the quality of players, coach Owen da Gama announced in his list of 21 heading to the CAF Youth Africa Cup of Nations this week, there is reason to be hopeful.
Da Gama, too, is being thrust back into the limelight.
It wasn’t until Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba named him as his first assistant in August last year that the man nicknamed “Rubber Doll” emerged from the corridors of oblivion. The Nedbank Ke Yona team doesn’t count.
The trip to Senegal – where “Baby Bafana” will play their Group A opener against the hosts on Saturday, then Zambia and Tunisia in an attempt to book a place at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio – is a daunting task for the coach, let alone the players.
Da Gama said there were no illusions about what was at stake.
“We know if we reach the semi-finals and win it, we have qualified. And if we don’t, we get another chance (in the play-off for third place),” said Da Gama in his assessment of the eight-nation tournament.
“There’s no doubt sometimes I have sleepless nights thinking about the team and the conditions there, but I am experienced enough to know the realities and what there is as well as what we can’t do.
“At the end of the day, the adrenalin will start to kick in as soon as we get closer to our opening match. But once we are on stage, there will be no fear.”
It is unavoidable to discuss the failure of past teams – including one guided by Mashaba to a similar tournament four years ago – to make it to an Olympic event.
Da Gama has had all the backing from the relevant stakeholders.
The Absa Premiership schedule was put on hold for the duration of the tournament in Senegal to afford the coach the cream of the crop, speaking again of the point that everyone is tired of mediocrity.
So, is Da Gama the best man for this job?
“It’s an opportunity for me to showcase what I am capable of doing, but more than that, it is an opportunity to grow and learn as a coach,” the former Orlando Pirates mentor said in backing himself to deliver the goods.
“At international level, being the head coach is all about the process.
“Joachim Low, the German national team coach, didn’t just come in and win things. He was allowed to grow. For me, that is the way forward.”
His face glows when he talks about the team he has been allowed to assemble.
An end to the club-versus-country saga that often plagues this junior men’s national team definitely whets his appetite.
Ditto the rest of the country.
“They are the best 21 we have selected and they will be aware of that,” Da Gama said.
“We have played three different systems and it is hard to read into us and know what’s coming.
“You look at the players we have, Menzi Masuku, Abbubaker Mobara and Gift Motupa.
“Keagan Dolly, on his day, can tear any team to shreds. These are players of mass destruction, top quality players.
“But we would rather understate and over-achieve than to put them under pressure.”
There you have it. Is there any reason not go get excited about this team?
Goalkeepers: Jody February (Ajax), Ricardo Goss (Arrows), Kyle Peters (Cape Town All Stars)
Defenders: Tshepo Rikhotso (Celtic), Kwanda Mngonyama (Maritzburg), Rivaldo Coetzee (Ajax), Zitha Macheke (Chippa), Denwin Farmer (SuperSport), Tebogo Moerane (Wits)
Midfielders: Abbubaker Mobara (Ajax), Gift Motupa (Pirates), Menzi Masuku (Pirates), Keagan Dolly (Sundowns), Phumlani Ntshangase (Wits), Paseka Mako (Cape Town All Stars), Deolin Mekoa (Maritzburg), Ryaad Norodien (Ajax)
Strikers: Phakamani Mahlambi (Wits), Siphelele Ntshangase (Leopards), Sibusiso Sibeko (Arrows), Dumisani Zuma (Celtic)
– THE SUNDAY INDEPENDENT