More than just a bronze medal

BACK IN PLAY: Orlando Pirates’ Menzi Masuku will be back in action tomorrow for the South African U23 team Picture: BACKPAGEPIX
BACK IN PLAY: Orlando Pirates’ Menzi Masuku will be back in action tomorrow for the
South African U23 team Picture: BACKPAGEPIX

SA-Senegal U23 playoff vital for Rio Olympics entry

THE third-place playoff is called the game no one wants to play, but that is not the case for Caf U23 Championship hosts Senegal and opponents South Africa, who play for more than just a bronze medal tomorrow (6pm SA time).

The countries have one last opportunity to book themselves a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the winners will join Nigeria and Algeria as Africa’s representatives at the world’s biggest sporting event.

Coach Owen da Gama has warned Senegal to expect a much tougher match after the West Africans enjoyed a 3-1 victory over South Africa a couple of weeks ago in the group stages.

South Africa were without Orlando Pirates midfielders Menzi Masuku and Gift Motupa in that defeat to Senegal and Da Gama believes the pair will make a big difference tomorrow.

Senegal were beaten 1-0 by Nigeria in the semifinals, while South Africa lost 2-0 to Algeria.

“We have analysed them as much as we can and we have a good idea what they are about.

“We have to put them under pressure and make as [few] errors as possible. There is more pressure on them because they are the hosts,” Da Gama said yesterday.

“I think we were a little bit too cautious in that first game.

“Now we have Gift in the team and Menzi as well. There will be a lot of tactical changes from our side – we don’t want to be a predictable team.”

Da Gama admits to have been stressing about the way his team has been defending in the competition.

There is clearly no understanding between the central defensive pairing of Kwanda Mngonyama and Rivaldo Coetzee, as the team has conceded seven goals in four matches.

There is good reason to worry ahead of the match tomorrow, with the team making silly errors at the back.

“We concede soft goals. There are individual errors and we are not marking tightly in the box,” Da Gama said.

“But we have to show faith in the players. We got it right against Tunisia [in the group stages] and I hope we can get it right again against Senegal.”

Senegal will be without midfielder Ousseynou Thioune, sent off in the semifinal against Nigeria.

There is little real mystery to this Senegalese side – they are powerful all through the team and rely on the pace of their wingers.

They will play the same style as the opening Group A clash, but if they offer the same gifts up again they will be punished.

Senegal were the only side in the competition to win all three of their pool games, going on to defeat Tunisia 2-0 and inflict a 1-0 defeat on Zambia.

They lost their semifinal to Nigeria despite creating enough chances to win the game.

Striker Ibrahima Keita, who scored a brace when they played South Africa, is an obvious dangerman, but so too is France-based forward Mouhamadou Diallo, who plays for Metz.

He has got better as the competition has worn on and netted against Tunisia and Zambia.

Winger Ismaila Sarr terrorised the South African defence in their first meeting and remains a key man for the home side.

Senegal coach Serigne Saliou Dia says the team’s No 1 objective of qualifying for Rio remains alive, but says they will have to find their finishing touch again against South Africa.

“We’re still close to [making] our goal, [qualifying] for Rio.

“I have to congratulate the boys: they played well but we were not lucky at all.

“We created so many chances but were not efficient in converting them,” he said after losing to Nigeria.

Senegal are seeking a return to the Olympics after qualifying for the 2012 Games in London.

There they reached the quarterfinals before being beaten in extra time by eventual champions Mexico.

That side contained Sadio Mane, still only 23, who has gone on to become one of the hottest properties in Europe, where he plays for Southampton in the English Premier League.

Saints boss Ronald Koeman recently said he would not sell Mane in January, “even for £100-million” (R2.3-billion) after reported interest from three clubs.

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