JOHANNESBURG, Nov 26 (NNN-SABC) — The South African men’s under-23 national soccer team has left for Senegal for the finals of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Africa Cup of Nations, the continental tournament for home-based players.
The eight-nation event runs from Nov 28 to Dec 12, and the top three will qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Head coach Owen da Gama knows there is a lot at stake as the last time South Africa qualified for the Olympics was back in 2000 under current Bafana Bafana (senior men’s football team) head coach Shakes Mashaba.
“It is history for us and the players know it. Should things go our way, then the players will go down in history as the second South African team to have qualified for the Olympic Games,” said Da Gama after the squad’s final training session at Eldorado Park here on Tuesday.
“The fact that we have reached a tournament of the best on the continent already means a lot and is something to smile about. We are carrying the national flag and we have to do it for the 52 million South Africans, and these players are proud to be doing that for the nation.”
For the team to do well, Da Gama says mental strength will be key. “In our last camp, the theme was about mental strength. We have prepared them for the worst possible scenario in Senegal. These boys have proven that intimidation does not work with them,” he added.
“They are also streetwise because they come from difficult backgrounds and understand all these things. They have played on fields without grass, in extreme heat and anything you can think of. So we just have to go there and compete and do our best.”
South Africa is in Group A with the hosts Senegal, as well as Zambia and Tunisia and their opening match will be against Senegal on Saturday at Leopold Stadium in Dakar.
South Africa’s second match is against Zambia on Tuesday, December 1, while the last group match is scheduled for Saturday, Dec 4 at the Caroline Faye Stadium in Mbour.
Group B features Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Mali. — NNN-SABC