SA Under-23s are a shoo-in for Afcon finals

Scorer Lyle Foster (far left) and his Under-23 team-mates Bongani Sam, Teboho Mokoena and Kamohelo Mahlatsi celebrate their 5-0 win over Zimbabwe at Orlando Stadium on Friday. Picture: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images
Scorer Lyle Foster (far left) and his Under-23 team-mates Bongani Sam, Teboho Mokoena and Kamohelo Mahlatsi celebrate their 5-0 win over Zimbabwe at Orlando Stadium on Friday. Picture: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images

Only a disaster of epic proportions can prevent the South African Under-23 team from reaching the CAF U-23 Afcon tournament as part of the team’s ultimate bid to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games, which take place in Tokyo, Japan.

After their 5-0 demolition of Zimbabwe on Friday, coach David Notoane’s squad has all but secured their spot at the junior continental championships in Egypt in November, with the return leg to spare.

Zimbabwe and South Africa will square up in Bulawayo on Tuesday, and the aggregate winner will join six other qualifiers in the draw for Afcon that runs from November 8-22.

While he is not ruling out any possibilities, Notoane feels the job is all but done and is setting his sights on forward planning.

“I think we are closer to crossing the first stage of our process, which is getting to Egypt; and then expanding the pool, which entails seeing who is ready to graduate to Bafana Bafana. We are also looking at the Under-20 group, who have returned from their recent World Cup in Poland, to determine who is ready to step up.

“The next stage is to try to increase the level of competition [for places in the team] in preparation for Egypt. Right now, it’s a case of so far, so good.”

South Africa, who were impressive in both their interplay and finishing skills on Friday, scored via Kobamelo Kodisang, Teboho Mokoena, Lyle Foster and a brace by Luther Singh.

Notoane has cautioned his charges to guard against complacency, despite facing a Zimbabwean side that has virtually thrown in the towel.

Safa has begun to look in earnest for opponents to keep Banyana Banyana busy after the team suffered a premature elimination in the race to the 2020 Olympic Games.

The South African senior women’s team lost to Botswana 3-2 on penalties after the two nations were tied 0-0 over two legs. 

Safa had hoped Banyana would advance right through the qualification campaign, which ends in February, so no friendly games had been scheduled for the team.

Acting Safa chief executive Russel Paul said: “We have already made enquiries for Banyana to get opposition, and we’ll make those announcements in due course. We have the Afcon to qualify for and we have a qualification process for the 2023 World Cup as well”

Congo-Brazzaville withdrew from hosting the expanded tournament next year, while the dates for the qualifications for the global championships have also not been determined due to the ongoing bidding process to be the 2023 host.  

  • . Local women’s football received a massive boost this week after AC Milan announced that Banyana vice-captain Refiloe “Fifi” Jane had joined the Italian powerhouse’s women’s club on a one-year deal. The 27-year-old midfielder, who has more than 100 Banyana caps, stands a chance to play in the women’s Uefa Champions League next season. The Soweto-born player made her debut in a friendly game against Napoli at the time of going to print yesterday.
  • Also this week, Olympic and world 800m champion Caster Semenya confirmed an interest in football after she was unveiled as a new player for Gauteng-based JVW FC, which is owned by Banyana captain Janine van Wyk. However, the 28-year-old middle distance runner’s official debut for the club in the newly established Safa Women’s National League has been delayed to next year because the player transfer window has closed.

“Miracles do happen, so that’s what we must guard against. It is always difficult when you have a comfortable lead in a match to manage, along with the tactics of the day, keeping the team in rhythm and ensuring that they put up a professional performance.”

And, Notoane believes, being in the driving seat could present opportunities for other members of the squad to get a run.

“It is also a chance to collect more data on the young players. For me, what’s more important is to deliver this young talent to Bafana in line with Vision 2022 [which aims to get Safa’s national teams ranked in the top three in Africa and the top 20 in the world by 2022].

“I have told them that the door is open, given the changes above us [at Bafana]. I have told them that national coach Molefi Ntseki, who started this project with a lot of these talented players at Under-17 level, is now in charge. So, it’s really now for them to push that door and force their way in – not through favours, but through their performances. The biggest issue is that they have to show tactical maturity early on because 2022 is almost here.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Under-23 coach Tonderai Ndiraya has admitted that his side was poor defensively.

“What is important in life is hope, but a 5-0 scoreline is difficult for us to come back from. We’ll do our best, even though, for me, 5-0 is just too much,” he said, adding that this week’s xenophobic violence that engulfed South Africa had a psychological effect on his players.

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