The national Under-23s were without Kaizer Chiefs defender Eric Mathoho in last night’s final Group A encounter against Iraq, where Owen Da Gama’s charges were eliminated from the Rio Olympics.
The lanky defender, who was one of the two overaged players in the squad, was stretchered off with an ankle injury in the 1-0 defeat to Denmark on Sunday.
“I think he is our strongest player in the air at the back, and you know the Iraqi game is based on the long and aerial balls. We had to negate that situation and unfortunately, Mathoho was not there. But I think Tercious Malepe, one of the youngest players in this tournament put up a brave performance. I think from a defensive point of view we missed Mathoho,” said Da Gama.
“We brought on Thabiso Kutumela. He had to then play wide because Keagan and Abbubaker Mobara were struggling. So we had to make the last change, bringing on Tashreeq Morris after Dolly went down.”
The former Free State Stars and Orlando Pirates coach added that both Dolly and Mobara were really struggling with injuries.
“Injuries always upset the team … we missed Lebo Mothiba upfront, which would have allowed us to play Gift Motupa in the midfield, where he is really creative. We wanted to play with two strikers, but unfortunately, Menzi Masuku was floating all over the place and was not as effective as we wanted him to be,” added the Bafana Bafana assistant coach.
The match saw AmaGlug-Glug scoring their first and only goal in the stalemate, but Iraq could have added more goals after striking the woodwork on three occasions. However, Da Gama says the match was of good spectator value.
“I thought it was a very entertaining match for the crowd … it was end-to-end stuff. Iraq created opportunities and we created opportunities, an open-ended game. So I think both teams wanted to go for the win, which was very good for football I believe. So it was a very good game, apart from the fact that we just needed that one goal.”