Against all odds! Notoane and South Africa U23 deserve credit for Olympic Games qualification


South Africa's preparation for the U23 Africa Cup of Nations tournament had too many challenges and very few people gave them a chance to make it past the group stages in Egypt. 

Coach David Notoane had to soldier on without some of his best players to make South Africa realise the dream of playing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. 

When South Africa left for Egypt, Notoane had only 13 players on that plane and for many of the country's football fans, he was destined to fail. 

Some teams refused to let him have their players while others only released their U23 stars after the first round of matches. 

A key player like Phakamani Mahlambi had to withdraw from the squad due to injury and again Notoane had to improvise without compromising his tactics. 

However, the end results are there for everyone to see, and this means the coach and his technical team knew exactly what they needed to do with the players they had at their disposal. 

David Notoane, South Africa U23 coach, June 2019

Players such as Luther Singh, Teboho Mokoena, and Sipho Mbule really strengthened the team and their experience came to the fore against some of the best teams on the African continent. 

Anything less than a qualification to Tokyo would have been deemed a failure by the majority of fans even with the challenges the team faced on their road to Tokyo.

One would say Notoane had enough time to plan for this tournament and strategise on how his team would qualify for the global showpiece and it's now up to the boys to raise their hands and make the final squad for Tokyo. 

Stuart Baxter's decision to send Notoane's team to the Cosafa 2019 tournament instead of his senior players must also be commended because, in as much as the country was up in arms, criticising the man, the decision contributed positively to this sweet success. 

Having been at the Olympics in the previous edition, South Africans know what to expect and they will need to be better than they were this time around. 

The majority of the players who featured at this year's Afcon finals will still qualify to be selected for the Olympic Games and get an opportunity to fly the South African flag, and this is where the trick will be if Notoane wants to do better than his predecessors. 

Owen Da Gama Bafana Bafana

In the previous edition of the Olympic Games, the stage appeared to be too big for the South Africans and they couldn't get past the group stages but they have a chance, provided Notoane starts preparing them sooner rather than later. 

Several teams in the PSL and beyond the South African borders, including those who didn't want to release their players for this continental showpiece, will, as usual, campaign for their players to be included in the final squad towards the start of the Games. 

However, Notoane shouldn't allow the noise to intimidate him and have his arm twisted in order to please certain individuals.

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He must focus on the ultimate prize as this was the case with this Afcon U23 tournament and most importantly, he must keep the core of the team and monitor those who will not be getting enough game time at club level because they also played a role in this qualification.

The former striker needs the country's support, from his team Mamelodi Sundowns, Safa to the fans alike - because his success with the national team is SA's success. 

As things stand, Notoane is still contracted to Sundowns as their MDC coach but perhaps they should give him a break and allow him to build a solid team six months prior to the Games, and South Africa would surely see a team readily prepared to battle it out against the best in the world.