U23s face epic battle in semifinal

GANGING UP: South Africa’s Rivaldo Coetzee and Deolin Mekoa challenge Haithem Jouini of Tunisia during the U23 African Cup of Nations match between South Africa and Tunisia on Friday.Picture: BACKPAGEPICS
GANGING UP: South Africa’s Rivaldo Coetzee and Deolin Mekoa challenge Haithem Jouini of Tunisia during the U23 African Cup of Nations match between South Africa and Tunisia on Friday.Picture: BACKPAGEPICS

SA, Algeria to fight it out tomorrow for spot in Rio

THE national under-23 side are expecting an epic battle against an Algerian side that usually defend with six or seven players, South Africa’s assistant coach Thabo Senong said.

The South Africans, who finished second in Group A at the Caf U23 Championship to progress to the knockout stage of the eight-nation competition, will face the Algerians in the second semifinal in Dakar, Senegal tomorrow (8.30pm, SA time).

The Algerian team, winners of Group B, have conceded just one goal in the tournament and Senong says the South African players will have to take responsibility and shoot from range to have a shot of winning the clash.

The North Africans were solid at the back in their goalless draw with Nigeria on Saturday, a result which secured them top spot in the group.

“It’s going to be a tough match. We watched them against Nigeria and we made a presentation to our coach [Owen da Gama],” Senong said.

“Algeria are well-structured, tactically coordinated and they always defend with six or seven players. We will be working on tactical variations to try to overcome that.

“We should keep possession in the right areas and take shots from far whenever we can because they have numbers behind the ball.”

A big concern for the U23 technical team is the slow starts they have made in their three group matches.

The South Africans have scored just one goal in the first half and conceded three in the first 45 minutes, the team usually coming alive in the second period.

“We need to score first and that can put us in the driving seat,” Senong said.

“Our defenders must also work as a collective.

“We have conceded five goals and we are not happy about that.

“We need to be disciplined tactically and enjoy the game. We want our boys to remain focused.

“Our team has quality individuals, but it’s important to work as a team, even when we do not have the ball.”

Gift Motupa’s troublesome ankle will be assessed today.

“The medical team is still assessing Gift Motupa’s ankle. We should have proper feedback today, but we believe that he will be okay for the match,” Senong said.

The danger man in the Algerian side is Zinedine Ferhat, who plays for one of Algeria’s top clubs, USM Alger. Ferhat has scored twice in the competition.

Meanwhile, Algeria U23 team coach Pierre-Andre Schurmann says solidarity is the key feature of his team as they bid for a place in the 2016 Olympic Games.

The crucial semifinal between the North Africans and South Africa tomorrow will be preceded by a showdown between hosts Senegal and Nigeria at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium.

“The key strength of this group is the way they support each other, the solidarity,” the Swiss-born coach said of the Algerians.

The top three teams from the Caf U23 Championship in Senegal will go on to represent Africa at the men’s football tournament at next year’s Olympic Games.

Algeria finished ahead of Nigeria on goal difference after one win and two draws in Group B.

“We have had periods of strength and others when we have been outplayed,” Schurmann said.

“But we dictated periods of the game and that bodes well for the game against South Africa.”

Schurmann said South Africa would be a tough proposition in the semifinals tomorrow.

He further argued that the South Africans had the advantage as they would have had an extra day to recover after their last group game against Tunisia on Friday.

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