Van Niekerk is a Liverpool fanatic, it seems. Indeed, even captain Jordan Henderson tweeted his congratulations after the runner’s extraordinary effort in Rio de Janeiro.
There was, it is safe to say, less enthusiasm surrounding South Africa’s men and women’s football teams as they landed in Johannesburg at the end of last week, both having fallen in the group stages in Brazil.
I wrote an editorial at the start of the Olympics giving both sides little chance, but I actually feel both sides acquitted themselves better than I expected.
Banyana Banyana almost held Sweden to a goalless draw in their opening game and did hold Brazil to a goalless draw in their final game. Vera Pauw’s side were miles behind Brazil, Sweden and China in the world rankings and could hardly have been expected to make it to the last eight. They were well-organised under coach Vera Pauw, and the only disappointment for me was the slightly powder-puff attacking threat they offered, not that this is anything new in South African football.
The men also suffered from the finishing malaise that seems to affect the nation, though they did create plenty of chances, while Banyana’s threat simply seemed to peter out when they entered the opposition half.
Owen da Gama’s side sneaked a goalless draw with Brazil and were also indebted to Itumeleng Khune’s superb saves. And then against Denmark, they could have won the game in the first half, hitting the woodwork twice, but lost it in the second. Against Iraq, South Africa were outplayed, it must be said, though ironically they scored their only goal of the competition, and came desperately close to winning in stoppage time, as Thabiso Kutumela grazed the side netting.
Players like Keagan Dolly, Gift Motupa, Abbubaker Mobara, Khune and Eric Mathoho come out of the tournament with immense credit, but coach Owen da Gama does not. His tactics were baffling at times, particularly his decision to play Kwanda Mngonyama as a defensive midfielder against Denmark, and his persistence with a clearly off-form Menzi Masuku. And don’t get me started on why Tyroane Sandows didn’t even get a second of game-time.
We speak to Motupa in this week’s Phakaaathi and he tells us of an experience that will live long in the memory, whatever the result.
The domestic campaign kicks off properly next week with the start of the Absa Premierhip. We have a look at who might be the front-runners for the league title, and could be facing relegation at the end of the season.
We also bring you the latest from the Orlando Pirates camp, as the new season approaches, with Muhsin Ertugral seemingly facing a bit of a goalkeeping conundrum. Pirates played Platinum Stars in the Maize Cup this weekend, with mixed results – they won the game, but they aren’t exactly hammering in the goals, not that Muhsin Ertugral is worried.
We also speak to a young South African starlet, who has just signed for a club in the second division in Portugal, and to Siyanda Ngubo, looking to make another splash in the NFD with Royal Eagles next season.