Da Gama’s crew stretch their legs in Downs win

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - ASHFAK MO­HAMED

AF­TER all the fes­tiv­i­ties of Team South Africa be­ing named for the Olympic Games, the men’s foot­ball team got down to their fi­nal prepa­ra­tions for Rio yes­ter­day with vic­tory over a Mamelodi Sun­downs side in a prac­tice match.

While the PSL cham­pi­ons didn’t field their strong­est lineup as they will be in­volved in an African Cham­pi­ons League clash against crack Egyp­tian out­fit Za­malak to­mor­row in Cairo, it was still a good work­out for the South African Un­der- 23 side in their run- in to the Games.

Coach Owen da Gama’s team clinched a 3- 0 vic­tory over Sun­downs at their train­ing head­quar­ters Chloorkop in Gaut­eng, with goals from Or­lando Pi­rates striker Menzi Ma­suku, Golden Ar­rows mid­fielder Andile Fik­i­zolo and Ajax Cape Town hit­man Tashreeq Mor­ris.

Fik­i­zolo is not part of the fi­nal 18- man squad picked for the Olympics – which had two over- aged play­ers in­cluded in Kaizer Chiefs duo Itume­leng Khune and Erick Mathoho – but is one of four ad­di­tional play­ers who are of­fi­cial re­serves.

The win comes as a wel­come boost for Da Gama af­ter his team lost their re­cent friendlies against Brazil ( 3- 1) and Ja­pan ( 4- 1), both away from home.

But they did tri­umph in the Cosafa Cup last month in Namibia, and yes­ter­day’s prac­tice match gave the coach an op­por­tu­nity to have a look at Mar­itzburg United de­fender Kwanda Mn­gonyama and Wits mid­fielder Phum­lani Nt­shangase in their re­turns from in­jury.

“This was a great match and we are very happy with the lev­els of fit­ness from the play­ers. Ma­suku and Mor­ris man­aged to play the whole match and were very in­flu­en­tial, which was great to see. We are also very pleased with the re­turn of Mn­gonyama and Nt­shangase from in­jury af­ter they could not take part in the Cosafa Cup a few weeks ago,” Da Gama said.

“We wanted to test a few of the play­ers by tak­ing them out of their com­fort zones. ( Mar­itzburg mid­fielder De­olin) Mekoa was ex­cel­lent at left- back and Nt­shangase was out­stand­ing both in the mid­field and at right- back.

“Play­ers l ike ( Pi­rates de­fender Ter­cious) Malepe and ( High­lands Park de­fender Mothobi) Mvala are just amaz­ing to watch, and we are con­fi­dent about the qual­ity of play­ers we are tak­ing to the Olympic Games,” he added.

The SA U23s will play an­other prac­tice match on Mon­day against Wits. Their Olympic sched­ule saw them drawn in Group A with hosts Brazil – who in­cluded Barcelona star Ney­mar in their squad yes­ter­day – Den­mark and Iraq.

Their open­ing fix­ture in Rio will be against Brazil on Thurs­day, Au­gust 4 in Brasilia ( 9pm, SA time), fol­lowed by Den­mark on Sunday, Au­gust 7 ( 2am, SA time on Mon­day, Au­gust 8) and Iraq on Wed­nes­day, Au­gust 10 ( 3am, SA time on Thurs­day, Au­gust 11).

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