The heroics of the South African Under-23s at the age-limit Afcon has not only earned the team a golden ticket to next year’s Olympics in Japan, but the feat in Egypt unlocked possible elevations to Bafana Bafana.
This was hinted at by Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki on the return of the team yesterday.
The Under-23s beat Ghana in a dramatic penalty shoot-out in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday to claim the bronze medal and the last spot in the junior continental championships.
They qualified alongside Egypt and Ivory Coast as Africa’s three representatives for the global spectacle in Tokyo.
The team’s head coach, David Notoane, said the integration process was something that he had discussed with Ntseki, but they were mindful of not disrupting the programme of the Under-23s.
“Now that we have qualified, we’ll have our programme and Bafana will have theirs [for the 2021 Afcon and 2022 World Cup qualifiers]. I am sure coach Molefi will do just that if he sees it fit and if there are no clashes between the programmes,” said Notoane.
In turn, Ntseki described the Under-23s as the golden generation, and said the team’s progress would “make the work of the senior team much easier”.
“This is the golden generation because all of them have played at international level – from the Under-17s to the Under-23s and now they have just qualified for the Olympics,” said Ntseki, who guided most of the players during his tenure as coach of the national Under-17s, who also qualified for the 2015 World Cup.
“So it means they have accumulated quite a lot of caps. That helps because it makes the work of the senior team much easier.
“These players now understand the demands of playing in Africa; the demands of playing in the Afcon; the demands of playing on the world stage. We are already trying to bring back into Bafana some of the players who played in the 2016 Olympics.
“So with this group, there is Luther Singh, Lyle Foster, Siyabonga Ngezana and Teboho Mokoena who already have Bafana caps.
“Tercious [Malepe, the captain], will be going for his second Olympics.
“It means he’s got massive experience. What else can you ask for? I can only say the future looks bright for our football because you can only tap into these young, experienced players,” said Ntseki.
Meanwhile, Safa president Danny Jordaan confirmed on Saturday – without disclosing the figures – that the Tokyo-bound heroes would receive financial incentives.
Notoane, by guiding South Africa to the Olympics next year, has followed in the footsteps of Owen Da Gama (Rio 2016) and Shakes Mashaba (Sydney 2000).
South Africa, Egypt and Ivory Coast are among the nine teams that have already confirmed their berths in Tokyo, alongside European powerhouses Germany, Spain and France.
Other qualified nations include hosts Japan, Romania and New Zealand.
A few more continental championships will be concluded early next year to complete the 16-nation line-up at the multi-code Games in Tokyo.
The men’s Olympic football tournament runs from July 23 to August 8 in the Japanese capital.