South Africa's participation in the upcoming U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in Senegal may mean another extended PSL break, but the league's acting CEO Mato Madlala sees the bigger picture.
Madlala has urged South Africans to rally behind the U-23 side as they make the trip to Senegal with the hope of securing a place in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Madlala said the success of the SA U-23 side – which comprises of players from the PSL and National First Division – is important for the entire country.
"On behalf of all the members of the NSL, we would like to wish coach Owen Da Gama and his players the best of luck ahead of what will be a testing campaign," Madlala said.
"We trust that they are prepared for the task that lies ahead. The success of the U-23s is very important for our football as we strive towards reclaiming the number one spot in African football.
"I’m delighted to see that at both club and national team level, our country is now well represented in continental competitions.
"As the PSL, our support for the U23s has not only been lip service. As part of the agreement between the PSL Chairman and SAFA President, we have suspended all Premier Division and National First Division fixtures to ensure that the coach has the full complement of the players he wants to select for this mini tournament."
The top three teams from the eight-team tournament in Senegal will qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
The South African Men’s u23 National Team has completed preparations in and will be flying to Senegal this evening (Tuesday, 24 November 201%) for the CAF u23 Africa Cup of Nations Tournament.
The eight-nation even runs from 28 November to 12 December 2015, and the top three will qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
South Africa u23 head coach Owen da Gama knows there is a lot at stake. The last time South Africa qualified for the Olympic Games was back in 2000 under Bafana Bafana head coach Ephraim Mashaba.
“It is history for us and the players know it. Should things go our way then the players they will go down in history as the second South African team to have qualified for the Olympic Games. The fact that we have reached a tournament of the best on the continent already means a lot and is something to smile about. We are carrying the national flag and we have to do it for the 52 million South Africans, and these players are proud to be doing that for the nation,” said Da Gama after the squad’s training session at Eldorado Park earlier today.
For Da Gama’s boys to do well, mental strength will be key.
“In our last camp the theme was about mental strength. We have prepared them for the worst possible scenario in Senegal. These boys have proven that intimidation does not work with them. They are also streetwise because they come from difficult backgrounds and understand all these things. They have played on fields without grass, in extreme heat and anything you can think of. So we just have to go there and compete and do our best,” added Da Gama.
South Africa is in Group A with the hosts Senegal, as well as Zambia and Tunisia.
The South Africa’s opening match will be against Senegal on Saturday, 28 November at the Leopold Stadium in Dakar.
Kickoff is at 15h00 local time.
“This is the last feeder team to Bafana Bafana, and it is also an opportunity for our boys to get international experience so that when they get to Bafana Bafana they don’t struggle, and it is not a cultural shock when they travel to other countries. We don’t want to offer any excuses, we going to this tournament as best prepared as possible and it is important to understand the bigger picture beyond the tournament,” said Da Gama.
South Africa’s second clash is against Zambia on Tuesday, 1 December, while the last group stages match is scheduled for Saturday, 4 December at the Caroline Faye Stadium in Mbour.
Group B, which will be in Mbour, has Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Mali. Meanwhile the Orlando Pirates duo of Gift Motupa and Menzi Masuku will miss South Africa’s opening match against Senegal as they will be travelling with their club to Tunisia for the second leg of the final of the CAF Confederations Cup competition.
They will arrive in Dakar after the final.
“Orlando Pirates are on the verge of making history and we have to be sensitive about that - it is history for Pirates and for the country. As much as we also have our mission for the country we have to be sensitive, also bear in mind that Orlando Pirates is always the first to release players for national team duty. These are integral players of the u23 National Team but we have prepared well as we anticipated they might not be with us for the first match. Let me also take this opportunity to wish them well in the final. We know they can do it and we believe in them,” concluded Da Gama.
South Africa u23 AFCON Fixtures:
Saturday, 28 November 2015
Senegal vs South Africa Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal) 15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
South Africa vs Zambia Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal) 15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
Saturday, 4 December 2015
South Africa vs Tunisia Caroline Faye Stadium (Senegal) 15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
Semi Finals: Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal) 15h00 and 18h30 (17h00 and 20h30 SA Time)
Saturday, 12 December 2015
3rd Place Play Offs: Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal) 15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
Final: Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal) 19h00 (21h00 SA Time)
Bafana Bafana defender Thabo Matlaba says they should not get ahead of
themselves as qualification for the group stages of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualifiers is only
the beginning of the journey. He added hard work lies ahead.
Bafana Bafana defeated Angola 1-0 in the second leg of Round 2 of the qualifiers in Durban
(Tuesday, 17 November) to book their place among 19 other countries who vie for the five spots to
represent Africa in Russia in 2018.
South Africa proceeded on a 4-1 aggregate followng their 3-1 victory over the Palancas Negras in
Angola last week (Friday, 13 November).
“The most important thing is that we need to keep in mind is that we have not arrived, this was just
another win and we need to keep working hard until we achieve our goal of qualifying. The journey
has just begun so we have to stay focussed as hard work lies ahead,” said Matlaba.
“It was very important for us to win because we want to compete with the other big guns and this
round was just the first step to getting there. We missed out on Brazil in 2014 and I am glad we are
very much on course for Russia 2018. We just have to wait for the draw to see who is in our group
and we take it from there. But we know nothing will be easier going forward – every team wants to
play on the big stage.”
Matlaba admits they were under tremendous pressure in the beginning of the match but managed
to settle down later which saw them get a goal.
“Remember we had the advantage of a two-goal lead, they needed to score three without reply
from us, so we had to be smart and not give them a scoring chance as it might have altered the
complexion of the game. But when Serero and Vilakazi came on in the second half, we changed our
approach because by then we had already soaked too much pressure denying them a goal. We were
able to play better football then,” added Matlaba.
“I think we played well, we had a plan, we stuck to it and it worked. Everyone did their job on the
field hence we came out with a win. Yes we started very slow, but it worked in our favour because
we had sort of done the business in the first leg - those goals we scored were very crucial and
somehow dicatated how we started in the second leg. They had to come to us. It was good to win
away first and come home to finish the job,” said Serero.
The Ajax Amsterdam midfieder says they will have to face anyone in group stages to make it the big
“We have a bunch of good players and we really want to do well for the national team. We haven’t
done well in a very long time and we are the first to admit, but I think things are changing now and
the two matches against Angola are a good indication of what we can do. We can’t pick who to play
in the group stages, but in my view the harder the group the better as it is much easier to plan
against them and also we want to play against the best in the business,” added Serero.
Twenty teams will be drawn into five round robin, home and away groups of four teams each. Five
group winners will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia tournament.
FIFA is yet to announce the date for the draw.
20 Qualified teams into the Group Stages:
South Africa Algeria
Egypt Cote d’Ivoire Nigeria Senegal
Tunisia Burkina Faso Cape Verde Islands Congo
Mali Libya Democratic Republic of Congo Gabon
Guinea Uganda Zambia Morocco
Code of Conduct
SAFA currently has a Coaching Education System in place with 4 different levels: D-Licence (5 days), C-Licence (10 days), B-Licence (20 days) and A-Licence (30 days).