News24

Baby Bafana set to board

2011-11-22 15:39

Johannesburg - A patched-up South African Under-23 soccer team is set to depart for Morocco on Wednesday evening for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Under-23 championships.

The 21-man team will, however, go slightly under-cooked to the final qualifier tournament for 2012 London Olympic Games and to their first game on Sunday against Ivory Coast at the 45 000-seater Marrakech Stadium.

"We have just had our first session this morning [Tuesday] and another later, and tomorrow morning again," said coach Shakes Mashaba.

"So, there is not much that can be done. Some of the players that are in the squad are not playing at their clubs.

"What has impressed me with the boys has been the spirit in the camp. Come Sunday, I'm sure we will be ready.

"We are looking at 14 to 15 hours to Marrakech-via-Cairo and Casablanca, and when we get there, players will be needing some rest."

Due to the continuing club versus country melee, Baby Bafana were forced to delay their departure as the SA Football Association (SAFA) cobbled together a locally-based squad, with travelling visas expected to be granted by Wednesday morning.

Mashaba is without the spine of his regular team squad, with the Thulani Serero, Andile Jali, Darren Keet, Kamohelo Mokotjo and Themba Zwane not released by their clubs.

The Swedish-based May Mahlangu - recently named footballer of the season in that country - could also not make a first national appearance by his club, Helsingborgs.

Injuries to captain Doctor Mampuru and Bongani Ndulula - the early qualifier rounds' top striker - did not help, even though the national team have midfield strongman Thandani Ntshumayelo fit to travel.

"We wasted a lot of time channelling our energy in this problem [last week's fracas with the Premier Soccer League on the release of players]. There is not much we can do," Mashaba said.

"I'm glad that Ntshumayelo could join us and add depth for us in the middle of the park, because playing Ivory Coast and Gabon you will need to be tough in the middle."

The likes of goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo, defender Eric Mathoho, midfielder Bhongolwethu Jayiya, who are regulars at club level, will need to rise to the occasion.

Individual brilliance might prove key in sparking the team in their opener against the Ivorians - a match that could determine how they will perform during their North African trip.

Also critical will be the contributions of Mashaba's four seasoned Under-23 campaigners Thulani Hlatshwayo, Sibusiso Khumalo, Mandla Masango and Phumelele Bhengu.

The biggest concern for Mashaba is up-front with the relatively untested Rodney Ramagalela and the inexperienced Ryan Eugene alongside Bhengu.

"That is the big problem," he said.

"It is a concern in our country, hence even the Bafana Bafana coach [Pitso Mosimane] raising it."

The tournament officially starts on Saturday with the final on December 10.

Baby Bafana are in Group B, and will face Gabon on November 30 soon after playing Ivory Coast and then Egypt on December 3.

Group A is arguably the tougher of the two, with hosts Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Algeria.

The top two teams in each group go to the semi-finals.

The two finalists and the winners of the third and fourth place matches will automatically qualify for next year's sporting showpiece, with the fourth team playing a play-off fixture against an Asian federation country.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Brilliant Khuzwayo, Brighton Mhlongo, Sage Lottering.

Defenders: Siyabonga Zulu, Sibisuso Mxoyana, Eric Mathoho, Thulani Hlatswayo, Gladwin Shitolo, Mxolisi Mayongo.

Midfielders: Mandla Masango, Sameehg Doutie, Christopher Flandorp, Thandani Ntshumayelo, Thamsanqa Sangweni, Sibusiso Khumalo, Bhongolwethu Jayiya, Khulekani Madondo, Jabulani Shongwe Strikers: Phumelele Bhengu, Rodney Ramagalela, Ryan Eugene.

SAPA