The South African Under-23 national football team has given the Mzansi nation an early Christmas present.
By beating hosts Senegal 3-1 in a penalty shoot-out at the CAF Under-23 Championships, they qualified for the Olympic Games that will be held in Rio, Brazil next year.
In so doing, they join their big sisters, Banyana Banyana - the SA senior women's national soccer team - who are also Rio-bound.
On Saturday, a proud South African Football Association (SAFA) president, Danny Jordaan, told those gathered at the organisation's AGM that they had splashed R223 million on development.
"Given how much we have spent, our junior national teams should be ranked No 1 in their age group by now," he said.
The expenditure does not seem to have gone down the drain as the SA Under-17 national team qualified for the World Cup in Chile, both Banyana Banyana and the Under-23's are on their way to the Olympic Games.
The SA Under-20 women's national fell on the final furlong in their quest to make their World Cup,
And the teams did all this without sponsorship except the Under-17 team who received the much needed shot in the arm via the Burger King backing.
Despite the Undeer-23's success - if one can call it that - there is still just one aspect of the South African game that still needs to improved.
The Under-23's made heavy weather of their qualification as they made it through the penalties to finish third at the competition.
They could have made their lives easier by beating Algeria in the semi-final thus making the final. This would have guaranteed them a place in the Olympic Games without the agony of going through a third-place play-off.
This is the nature of South African football and has been the case for many years.
Our teams just fail to take their fate into their own hands. One has lost count of how many times we have had to whip out calculators to work out what was needed for our teams to make the next round in international events.
This needs to stop! It is not good for the health, especially the hearts of those who follow the game of the pigskin.
While the qualification was a result of real team-work, there are a few players who were outstanding and deserve a mention.
One is goalkeeper, Jody February, the Ajax Cape Town shot-stopper.
February committed a foul that gave Senegal a penalty late in the game but got up, dusted himself and pulled off a stupendous save.
As if that was not enough, he went on to pull off three saves during the penalty-shootout to ensure a 3-1 victory and successful passage to Rio.
Among the players who stood out, were the Orlando Pirates duo of Gift Motupa and Khethokwakhe Masuku.
The pair must have found a somber mood when they came into camp after their club's CAF Confederation Cup final against Tunisian side, Etoile du Sahel.
Their teammates had lost 3-1 to Senegal in their opening match.
Motupa lifted not only the spirits of the team and nation but also raised hopes of qualifying when he scored a brace in the next game against Zambia with Masuku adding the goal that secured a 3-2 victory and thus kept the hopes alive.
Credit must also go to skipper Keagan Dolly who always had some encouraging and good words for the team during the tournament.
Motupa, Masuku and February have also refused to take personal glory for their heroics, attributing it to teamwork.
And there is a sign of maturity and good heads fixed on their young shoulders.
The Premier Soccer League also deserves a big pat on the back for suspending all its fixtures to ensure that coach Owen da Gama had the best talent at his disposal.
This gesture has paid the desired dividends.
One other challenge for Safa is now to ensure that the core of the Under-17 and this Under-23 teams are kept together so that they graduate to the next age-group as a unit.
The majority of the Under-23 team will be just under 26 come the 2018 Soccer World Cup in Russia and should form the core of the Bafana Bafana team, if we qualify.
The Under-17's should be kept together and be molded to qualify for the next Under-20 World Cup.
All of a sudden, the future looks bright for SA football.
S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading
sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of
the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is
currently City Press Sports Editor.
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