Mark Gleeson

Banyana heading for Olympics

2011-08-29 07:20
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson
Olympic glory beckons for South Africa’s women footballers after a strong weekend performance.

Their 3-0 triumph over Ethiopia in the first leg of their final round qualifier means they virtually have a foot in the eight-team tournament in England next July and August.

It is a marvelous achievement by Banyana Banyana, who have come so close in the past to reaching a world championship event but fallen at the final hurdle.

They were cheated out of a place at his year’s women’s World Cup by an Equatorial Guinea team full of foreign mercenaries, shipped in from other countries to play in the qualifiers.

They have since been kicked out of the Olympic Games qualifiers but had the South African Football Association protested in time and done some proper investigation, Banyana Banyana would have played at the recent women’s World Cup in Germany - a tournament that proved a phenomenal success.

That aside, the women’s team now need only hold onto their three-goal lead in the return leg in Addis Ababa on September 11 to go to the Olympics for the first time.

It will be a prodigious achievement to finally make it and surely a major boon for the women’s game in this country. The Olympic field is smaller than that of the women’s World Cup and also played at senior level (unlike the men, who are at Under-23 level) and so is akin to a world championship. It will give incredible exposure to the team and allow them vital experience that will serve their cause in the bid to get to the next women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015.

So what of the men? It was announced during the week that Egypt will host the eight-team tournament at the end of the year to determine Africa’ three places (the women have two) at the London Olympics.

The timing of the tournament, however, is a major crisis. It will be hosted in November and early December when the Premier Soccer League is in full swing. It is also not being played on dates that FIFA have reserved for international competition, which basically absolves clubs from having to release their places for duty with the Under-23 national side.

As things stand now, Shakes Mashaba is going to have to beg and cajole just to be able to put together a squad and he certainly will not be able to get top players like Thulani Serero, Andile Jali, Mandla Masango and Bongani Ndulula to go with the team to Egypt.

It puts a major damper on Amaglugglug’s chances of going to the Olympics. Unless of course the PSL clubs agree to allow him to choose his best side. They have it within their power to let key players go but whether they believe enough in the national interest remains to be seen. The league is admittedly busy at this time and cannot afford to stop but surely the top officials and club realise the value to football overall in South Arica of a successful Under-23 side playing at the Olympic Games. Or is it always self interest first?

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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