Rio in reach for U-23s
Young Bafana have two chances to qualify this week
The SA Under-23 national football team is closer to qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games following a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Tunisia at the ongoing CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal on Friday. Qualification will put a positive spin on a bittersweet international year for South African national teams following a mixed bag of results amid high expectations.
The win on Friday saw coach Owen Da Gama’s team advance to Wednesday’s semifinal, where they will face the winners of Group B.
Hosts Senegal will play in the other semifinal, also on Wednesday, against the runners-up of Group B, which were still to be determined at the time of going to print. Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt were all in the running.
The Senegal tournament carries much more than continental bragging rights, as three tickets to the men’s Olympic football tournament are at stake.
South Africa have two chances to reach Rio. A win in their semifinal will secure their place in Brazil. A loss will mean Da Gama’s side must rely on winning the third-place play-off match to qualify for the Olympics.
Only the top three teams from the eight-nation tournament in Senegal will represent Africa in Rio in August next year.
Da Gama has every reason to believe his side can follow the example set by Banyana Banyana, who have already qualified for the women’s Olympic tournament, which will be the team’s second successive appearance at the multicoded Games after their debut in London in 2012.
The South African men’s team received the full backing of the Premier Soccer League, which cancelled all fixtures for the duration of the Senegal tournament to allow Da Gama to pick arguably the strongest Under-23 side in his tenure.
Da Gama, who doubles as the Bafana Bafana assistant coach to Shakes Mashaba, remains on course to emulate the latter’s feat of having qualified the team for the 2000 Olympics.
Just last month, the men’s Under-17s bombed out in the first round with a single point and no win at their maiden Fifa World Cup in Chile.
Amajimbos’ setback came shortly after Basetsana, the women’s Under-20 side, failed to reach the 2016 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.
The men’s Under-20s, Amajita, also failed to qualify for the World Cup in New Zealand in May and June.
Banyana failed to qualify for the Women’s World Cup, but coach Vera Pauw’s charges made up for that with their qualification for next year’s Olympics.
Bafana recently brushed aside the disappointment of having exited the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea in the first round – along with failure to qualify for next year’s African Nations Championship – by progressing to the last round of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
It is now up to the Under-23s to save the year with a win on Wednesday to reach the final at the Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor in Dakar on Saturday – and Rio next year.
HAPPY CHAPS SA Under-23 players celebrate their win over Tunisia at the ongoing CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal, which serves as a qualifying tournament for the 2016 Olympic Games SURPRISE LEADER
Marc Leishman of Australia came from behind to take the overnight lead