Distracted Team SA aim to keep Japan at bay

accreditation
0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
SA football players during a training session at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. They face Japan today in the first competitive action for the South African Olympics squad known as ‘Team SA’.
SA football players during a training session at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. They face Japan today in the first competitive action for the South African Olympics squad known as ‘Team SA’.
Team SA

South Africa’s under-23 men go into battle on Thursday against hosts Japan on day one of competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

There have been so many sideshows, such uncertainty and rumour that we wondered if we’d ever reach this point where the 2020 Games were going to kick-off. Even if it was going to be a year later, in 2021. But, the waiting is finally over.

A lot of the build-up into the game against Japan has been around Covid-19. In fact, the three positive cases amongst Team SA’s men’s football squad — two players and an official — were the first to be reported inside the Olympic village bubble, “the safest place on earth” when it comes to Covid.

“Not being allowed to leave our hotel rooms, we were only able to train for the first time on Monday. But it is what it is, circumstances out of our control. We’re here to play, not complain.”
SA Team captain, Tercious Malepe.

To say it has been a distraction is an understatement, with the affected players placed in quarantine and the remainder in isolation.

“It was very difficult,” admitted captain Tercious Malepe.

“We obviously didn’t expect to experience what we experienced here in the [Olympic] village and that came on the back of an arduous journey to get here.

“Our preparation has been less than ideal. We returned to SA from Egypt and had a short camp in Nelspruit before leaving for Japan, where we were in isolation for a week.

ALSO READ | Notoane fearful of Covid-19 ‘storm’ in Tokyo

“Not being allowed to leave our hotel rooms, we were only able to train for the first time on Monday,” Malepe said.

“But it is what it is, circumstances out of our control. We’re here to play, not complain.”

Japan are huge favourites to pick up maximum points in their Group A opener today (kick-off is at 1 pm, SA time).

The pool itself is what’s commonly called a “Group of Death”, with hosts Japan being joined by South Africa, Italy, France and Mexico.

“Physically, we’re at a huge disadvantage against them as they’re highly athletic and we have a mammoth task. They’ll be difficult to knock down but we’re excited.”
Coach David Notoane.

Five years ago South Africa lost only one match in their group — that being 1-0 to Denmark — and drew with Brazil and Iraq. The Brazilians were hosts in Rio but a squad that included Neymar and Gabriel Jesus couldn’t score against the South Africans.

Malepe was part of that 2016 group and he will be imparting his experiences onto the 2020 squad.

If you can keep Brazil scoreless in Rio then why not Japan in Tokyo?

“I actually think it’s the hosts who are under more pressure than us,” he said. “They need the win, they need to move through to the knockouts quickly. I’ve been telling the guys to be patient and disciplined. We known Japan are going to come at us and bring everything.

“But the guys understand the magnitude of the game and despite all the setbacks and disadvantages with preparation, squad changes and Covid, we will give it our best.”

TEAM SA UNDER-23 MEN

Evidence Makgopa, Tercious Malepe, Katlego Mohamme, James Monyane, Goodman Mosele, Luther Singh, Luke Fleurs, Teboho Mokoena, Mondli Mpoto, Ronwen Williams, Sbusiso Mabiliso, Thabo Cele, Kamohelo Mahlatsi, Kobamelo Kodisang, Sifiso Mlungwana, Reeve Frosler, Macbeth Mahlangu, Thendo Mukumela, Nkosingiphile Ngcobo

Coach David Notoane used typically feistier South African language. “Our boys were huffing and puffing after their first training session in the heat here but we’re in a war zone and we have to fight.

“Physically, we’re at a huge disadvantage against them as they’re highly athletic and we have a mammoth task.

“They’ll be difficult to knock down but we’re excited.”

As is the rest of South Africa. Let the Games begin!

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Daily Poll
It's so cold! How do you heat your home?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Gas heaters
23% - 63 votes
Electric heaters
19% - 53 votes
I just dress warmly and use blankets at night
57% - 156 votes
Vote
Latest Issue

View The Witness in PDF

Latest Issue
Read the latest news from KZN in digital form.
Read now