Bafana’s overaged to bolster Da Gama’s side
“The spine of the team is important” – so says national Under-23 coach Owen da Gama, as he beefs up his squad for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
City Press has reliably learnt that Da Gama has identified the Bafana Bafana trio of captain Itumeleng Khune, defender Eric Mathoho and industrious midfielder Andile Jali as his overage players for the Olympics.
The trio were the heartbeat of Bafana’s recent success in the Confederation of African Football’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Gambia.
While Khune kept a clean sheet in the 4-0 drubbing of the West African country, Mathoho and Jali were equally outstanding in their respective positions.
Bafana had not lost in their previous three qualifiers – including the two draws against Cameroon, in March and April. However, Da Gama could not be drawn into disclosing his preferred players.
Before the team’s departure for the Cosafa tournament in Namibia, Da Gama told City Press he had submitted his 35-man list to Sascoc.
“We had to submit the 35 names by the end of May and it is out of my hands now. We have until July 14 to submit our final list and, as you can imagine, it has not been easy as everybody wants to go to the Olympics,” said Da Gama.
In an effort to help Da Gama, Shakes Mashaba took mostly Under-23 players in his Bafana squad to Cosafa.
Da Gama said he would use the tournament and their trip to Japan to trim the squad to the required 22 players. The final list of 18 players and four on standby has to be submitted to South Africa’s Olympic governing body Sascoc by July 14. What do they bring? Goalkeeper: Khune With goalkeeper Jody February hardly featuring for Ajax Cape Town, Khune will not only bring the necessary experience and stability in the last line of defence, but also his leadership qualities. The Kaizer Chiefs number one will lead from the back and launch attacks with his accurate passes. February, who was the team’s hero in the qualifiers when he stopped four penalties, could learn a lot from the talented Khune. Central defence: Mathoho There is no doubt that Mathoho has been the country’s number one centre back. The Chiefs defender will reunite with his Bafana centre back partner Rivaldo Coetzee should he make the cut. The two have formed a good partnership in the heart of the Bafana defence and know each other well. With Kwanda Mngonyama a doubtful player given his hamstring injury, the door is open for Mathoho to fill this space. His work rate and aerial power will assist the young team. Mngonyama, who was sent home from Namibia, is racing against time to regain his fitness before the cutoff date. Midfield: Jali Jali fits the bill. Because of his stature, he will bring in the required maturity and composure as he has played against the best in the business. He also brings protection to the defence and can create opportunities in the middle.
Da Gama’s side will come up against Barcelona superstar Neymar in their opening game after being drawn against the host nation.
They will also play Denmark and Iraq.
RELIABLE Bafana Bafana goalkeeper and captain Itumeleng Khune is poised to play in the Olympics
PROMISING Defender Eric Mathoho, who may form a partnership with Rivaldo Coetzee at the Rio Games, is seen here working the ball with Mpho Makola