In the midst of the South African Under-23s celebrating their semifinal berth at the ongoing age-limit Afcon in Egypt, head coach David Notoane remains uncertain about what effect the end of the latest Fifa window will have on his squad.
The junior Bafana played to a goalless draw against Nigeria on Friday to set a date with hosts Egypt in the Last 4 at the Cairo International on Tuesday night – the day the Fifa window officially ends.
The two-week championship, which serves as the qualifier for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, falls outside the international calendar and Notoane had his hands full trying to convince clubs to release players before then.
The coach is hoping the clubs will do the “respectable thing”, given that South Africa are in strong contention for an Olympic ticket.
“At this point, I can’t confirm for sure that the players who are here will remain or go home after the Fifa break,” said Notoane, who arrived at the tournament with 12 infield players and two goalkeepers – out of 21 – for the team’s opening match against Zambia last weekend.
Despite the challenges, the point gained against the Zambians was a good start for the South Africans, who later beat Ivory Coast 1-0 on Tuesday.
“But one thing for sure is that I’ll have them for the semifinal against Egypt [on Tuesday]. I’ll worry about whether they going or staying after we have done the job against Egypt.
“I am sure the clubs will do the respectable thing – which is to allow the players to enjoy the tournament,” said Notoane.
If they beat Egypt on Tuesday, South Africa will automatically get their pass to the Olympics, but a loss will mean they must win the third-place play-off to qualify for the spectacle in Japan.
Ghana face Ivory Coast in another semifinal, also on Tuesday.
With the junior Afcon final and the third-place play-off set for Friday, it remains to be seen if Notoane will still have the overseas-based trio of Luther Singh of Moreirense FC in Portugal, Lyle Foster from Cercle Brugge in Belgium and Kobamelo Kodisang from Portugal’s FC Braga.
The PSL action resumes with the Telkom Knockout (TKO) semifinals next weekend and only the Kaizer Chiefs pair of Siyabonga Ngezana and Happy Mashiane, as well as Mamelodi Sundowns’ Keletso Makgalwa, have their teams playing in the TKO.
The PSL only postponed the GladAfrica Championship fixtures involving Ajax Cape Town, Richards Bay and the University of Pretoria.
Notoane, however, will also bank on SuperSport United not recalling his stars – Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule – as Matsatsantsa a Pitori will only resume their league programme on November 27.
Similarly, Ngezana, Mashiane and Makgalwa have not featured regularly for their respective clubs so far this season.
Reflecting on the team’s progress in Egypt, Notoane said: “We are happy that we got the result that we wanted, which was first to qualify through a draw [against Nigeria on Friday]. Naturally, we wanted to win the game.
“We have to go and refresh [for the semifinal]. We knew there was a possibility of playing Egypt and we played them before.”
The two sides faced off last month, with Egypt winning the second of the friendly matches after the first game ended 1-1.
Notoane said his side would draw inspiration from Bafana Bafana, who eliminated Egypt in the senior Afcon competition in July.
“I believe that, with the spirit we have, we’ll get through to the final.”