Mark Gleeson

SA U23 chase Olympic gold

2011-07-11 06:21
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson

Shakes Mashaba has again done a magnificent job with the South African Under-23 side, and given the country hopes of Olympic success again.

Mashaba is back in the job a decade after he steered a golden generation of young South Africans to a 3-1 win over Brazil at the 2000 Games in Australia.

Victory over the star-studded, and superbly trained, Brazil was one of the high points in South African soccer history.

Brazil had high hopes of gold medal success but the young Amaglug-glug players had their number that day with superb performances from the likes of Quinton Fortune, Delron Buckley and Benni McCarthy, and goals from Fortune, Siyabonga Nomvete and Steve Lekoelea.

It cost Wanderly Luxemburgo his job as Brazil national team coach.

I had the good fortune to be at the Brisbane Cricket Ground on that heady night in Brisbane - a long way from the rest of the activity hosted in Sydney - and hope Mashaba will engineer another chance for an Olympic experience in London next year.

So far, the latest generation has got through two qualifying hurdles and is now in the last eight of the African qualifiers for the 2012 men’s tournament.

It has been decided for the first time that the last stage of the African preliminaries will now be held as a mini-tournament in December, when the eight remaining sides meet in a central venue with the top three will go onto the London Games. The fourth-placed side will playoff against a country in Asia to book their spot.

South Africa has the right to attempt to host the event and I am fervently hoping that the South African Football Association is putting in the necessary paper work, and making the right overtures, to ensure the tournament is played on home soil.

It will be a massive boost to the Under-23 team’s chances if the mini-tournament is played in South Africa, with home advantage certainly a big weapon in any armoury.

Our administrators have often let the game down but sometimes also surprised us with their efficiency and it must be a fervent hope that is again the case here.

Even more important will be the ability of Mashaba to pick the best possible team.

That means that Premier Soccer League clubs must give up players to the squad in December, even though there are not required to do, in terms of the FIFA regulations.

But South African participation in the Olympic Games soccer tournament is of benefit to all in the country and hopefully the clubs will not be blinkered by their selfish agendas, as they have been to date.

Mashaba has had his back to the wall throughout the qualifiers with few clubs prepared to help him.

SAFA needs to now engage the PSL clubs and ensure they are aware of the need for many key players in December. We must see the likes of Andile Jali, George Maluleka and Mandla Masongo playing for the Under-23 side in December and qualifying the country for the opportunity to chase Olympic gold.

SAFA and the PSL have an acrimonious relationship and spend more time trying to sabotage each other than work together. But the country can hold both to account in December when the Olympic qualifiers are hosted. Let’s see if they are the patriots they claim to be.

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

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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