Da Gama’s crew stretch their legs in Downs win
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).