Marrakech - The SA Under-23 football team has been dealt a cruel blow with star player Eric Mathoho ruled out of the next game through injury.
His injury means he will not be playing in the junior team's Group B CAF Under-23 Championship clash against Gabon in Marrakech on Wednesday.
The lanky defender was key in the 1-1 draw with Ivory Coast in SA's tournament opener on Sunday. But he has been struggling with a knee injury, and missed the team's only training session on Tuesday morning.
"The team took the decision to rest Mathoho for the match as a precautionary measure ... (we also) considered that we have the final group match against Egypt on Saturday," said media officer, Morio Sonyane, on Tuesday afternoon.
There were also injury concerns for the captain and goalkeeper Sibusiso Mxoyana, back Gladwin Shitolo, and midfielders Sameehg Doutie and Sibusiso Khumalo. Khumalo had a strapping on his right foot.
But all four players did take part in the team's grilling final training session and will be deemed fit to face the Gabonese.
"They all had minor knocks from the previous game but they will be fine for the game," Sonyane said.
While Mathoho's injury will hamper coach Shakes Mashaba's preparations and strategic planning, he said the team had adequate replacements.
Already, Baby Bafana will miss midfielder/defender Thami Sangweni, who is not available for the game while serving a one-match suspension after being sent off against the Ivorians.
"Obviously, with Mathoho's injury we will have to reshuffle things, and at the same time, hope to maintain a solid defence," he said.
Maritzburg United talent, Khulekani Madondo is most likely to slot in Sangweni's position, having been utilised there in the side's last two training sessions.
This is an encounter Baby Bafana have to win to stake a strong challenge to the last four stage, where the top three automatically qualify for next year's Olympic Games.
After the first match, South Africa have one point, while Gabon are yet to register anything, after losing 1-0 to Egypt in their opener.
The Gabonese could be considered the weakest nation in the group, and a chance for Baby Bafana to score confidence building goals and stamp their authority in the tournament.
Should South Africa win and Egypt beat the Ivorians in the preceding tie, then a draw will be enough for Baby Bafana in their final match on the weekend to see them and Egypt through to the next stage.
South Africa's bustling striker Rodney Ramagalela said that his team-mates would improve from the previous match, and reach their full potential.
"We will work hard for our country tomorrow [Wednesday]," said the confident Ramagalela.
"The team was down after the last match where we were chasing after Ivory Coast, but we will pick up for this game and show our true potential.
"We will sit down later to talk about Gabon and I feel that we are capable of scoring goals and feel that we will showcase that on Wednesday."