Why SA face difficult odds at U23 Africa Cup of Nations in Cairo

SA Under-23 head coach David Notoane is on a mission to qualify the team for both the 2019 Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
SA Under-23 head coach David Notoane is on a mission to qualify the team for both the 2019 Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi

Only 12 players departed with David Notoane and his under-23 team technical staff from OR Tambo International Airport for Egypt on Monday where South Africa are fighting against the odds to earn a place at the Tokyo Olympic Games men’s football tournament next year.

It means he will barely be able to field a team and will have to do without substitutes when Amagluglug play their first game at the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations tournament against Zambia in Cairo on Saturday.

Absa Premiership have refused to let their players go before next week‚ when the Fifa window for international matches opens‚ and so Notoane has been forced to go to the tournament without players like Sipho Mbule and Teboho Mokoena of SuperSport United‚ and the Kaizer Chiefs duo of Siyabonga Ngezana and Happy Mashiane.

Cape Town City have also not released defender Keanu Cupido despite former coach Benni McCarthy saying last month they should not stand in the way of the player.

“They have had a turn around. It’s a bit of a blow‚” Notoane told TimesLIVE with a measure of understatement.

The tournament starts on Friday‚ which is outside the Fifa window for clubs to release players.

But Notoane has been able to call up players from National First Division clubs‚ whose fixtures this weekend have been postponed to help the under-23 side.

It was a partial gesture by the Premier Soccer League but still leaves Notoane’s 21-man squad vastly under-cooked.

Notoane hopes to have the numbers up to 14 by Wednesday as he is waiting to hear whether Lyle Foster and Luther Singh will be released by their clubs in Belgium and Portugal respectively to join up with the squad in Cairo.

Tercious Malepe of Chippa United will also arrive on Wednesday after a red card picked up against Mamelodi Sundowns in the Telkom Knockout on Sunday ruled him out of his side's next two games.

That was an unexpected turn of good fortune for Notoane but then he suffered another blow‚ in the same game‚ as Phakamani Mahlambi was injured and is out of the tournament.

As things stand‚ it will be an embarrassing sight to see at most 14 players lined up for South Africa on Saturday.

By the time the under-23s play their second game against the Ivory Coast on Tuesday‚ November 12‚ Notoane should have a full squad but in what condition after helter skelter travel.

The top three finishers at the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations qualify for the Tokyo Games.

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