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 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 Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Senegal vs South Africa
Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal)
15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
South Africa vs Zambia
Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal)
15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
Saturday, 4 December 2015 Wednesday, 9 December 2015
South Africa vs Tunisia
Caroline Faye Stadium (Senegal)
15h00 (17h00 SA Time)
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)