The South African Under-23 national football team has
given the Mzansi nation an early Christmas present.
By beating hosts Senegal 3-1 in a penalty shoot-out at
the CAF Under-23 Championships, they qualified for the Olympic Games that will
be held in Rio, Brazil next year.
In so doing, they join their big sisters, Banyana
Banyana - the SA senior women's national soccer team - who are also Rio-bound.
On Saturday, a proud South African Football
Association (SAFA) president, Danny Jordaan, told those gathered at the
organisation's AGM that they had splashed R223 million on development.
"Given how much we have spent, our junior
national teams should be ranked No 1 in their age group by now," he
The expenditure does not seem to have gone down the
drain as the SA Under-17 national team qualified for the World Cup in Chile, both
Banyana Banyana and the Under-23's are on their way to the Olympic Games.
The SA Under-20 women's national fell on the final
furlong in their quest to make their World Cup,
And the teams did all this without sponsorship except
the Under-17 team who received the much needed shot in the arm via the Burger
Despite the Undeer-23's success - if one can call it
that - there is still just one aspect of the South African game that still
needs to improved.
The Under-23's made heavy weather of their
qualification as they made it through the penalties to finish third at the
They could have made their lives easier by beating
Algeria in the semi-final thus making the final. This would have guaranteed
them a place in the Olympic Games without the agony of going through a
This is the nature of South African football and has
been the case for many years.
Our teams just fail to take their fate into their own
hands. One has lost count of how many times we have had to whip out calculators
to work out what was needed for our teams to make the next round in
This needs to stop! It is not good for the health,
especially the hearts of those who follow the game of the pigskin.
While the qualification was a result of real
team-work, there are a few players who were outstanding and deserve a mention.
One is goalkeeper, Jody February, the Ajax Cape Town
February committed a foul that gave Senegal a penalty
late in the game but got up, dusted himself and pulled off a stupendous save.
As if that was not enough, he went on to pull off
three saves during the penalty-shootout to ensure a 3-1 victory and successful
passage to Rio.
Among the players who stood out, were the Orlando
Pirates duo of Gift Motupa and Khethokwakhe Masuku.
The pair must have found a somber mood when they came
into camp after their club's CAF Confederation Cup final against Tunisian side,
Etoile du Sahel.
Their teammates had lost 3-1 to Senegal in their
Motupa lifted not only the spirits of the team and
nation but also raised hopes of qualifying when he scored a brace in the next
game against Zambia with Masuku adding the goal that secured a 3-2 victory and
thus kept the hopes alive.
Credit must also go to skipper Keagan Dolly who always
had some encouraging and good words for the team during the tournament.
Motupa, Masuku and February have also refused to take
personal glory for their heroics, attributing it to teamwork.
And there is a sign of maturity and good heads fixed
on their young shoulders.
The Premier Soccer League also deserves a big pat on the
back for suspending all its fixtures to ensure that coach Owen da Gama had the
best talent at his disposal.
This gesture has paid the desired dividends.
One other challenge for Safa is now to ensure that the
core of the Under-17 and this Under-23 teams are kept together so that they
graduate to the next age-group as a unit.
The majority of the Under-23 team will be just under
26 come the 2018 Soccer World Cup in Russia and should form the core of the
Bafana Bafana team, if we qualify.
The Under-17's should be kept together and be molded
to qualify for the next Under-20 World Cup.
All of a sudden, the future looks bright for SA
S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading
sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of
the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is
currently City Press Sports Editor.
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