South African Under-23 team coach Owen da Gama says the dream still lives on as his men get ready to face Algeria in the semifinal of the CAF Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Senegal on Wednesday (8.30pm SA time).
Algeria finished top of Group B after a goalless draw against Nigeria on Saturday setting up a clash with Da Gama’s boys who had already clinched a last four berth following a 1-0 victory over Tunisia. South Africa finished second in Group A.
Algeria come into this match following a 1-1 draw with Egypt, 2-0 victory over Mali and the goalless draw against Nigeria, while South Africa lost their opening match 3-1 to Senegal and defeated Zambia and Tunisia 3-2 and 1-0 respectively.
In the other semifinal, hosts Senegal are up against Nigeria on the same day and at the same venue.
In an interview with SAFA Media, Da Gama said: “When we left home the mission was to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games, and we are still on track for our dream. We have been taking it one game at a time, and it has worked for us.
“We did not want to get ahead of ourselves by thinking about the final before we had even qualified for the last four. Now we are just one match away from achieving our dreams.
“It would make life so much easier if we were to qualify for the final outright and eliminate all the pressure, that would also be killing two birds with one stone – qualifying for the Olympics and playing in the final.
Talking about the victory over Tunisia, Da Gama said it was tough but credit should go to all the players, who were exceptional on the night.
“We defended very well – remember we needed a draw but we won the game – and that is testimony to the spirit in the camp and what the boys want to achieve, so it was a very good outing for us and we are just elated to the be in the last four.
Da Gama admitted his team had not started the tournament well but clicked against Tunisia.
“We did not have a very good start, but then again we were playing our first match and also playing against the hosts, so you would expect that. By playing against the best it also raises your standard as well as we saw against Tunisia.
“In the first match we got our tactics wrong by playing a defensive system, with a lot of caution and it cost us the game. But it has been a fantastic run so far and it is important that we get better and better as the competition progresses, and peak at the right time. Hopefully we can get it right and win the next one.
Talking about the semifinal against Algeria, said it would be tough but the match-up was probably a blessing in disguise.
“It is going to be a tough one there is no doubt about it, these are the best four nations on the continent at this stage. We were expecting any one between Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt but we got Algeria as they topped their group.
“It is probably a blessing in disguise that we are playing them because Nigeria is also a quality team as well as Egypt, who have unfortunately been knocked out.
“We have to deal with another North African tactical approach, very technical, solid in defence and very organised with very quick fullbacks and wingers. We will once more have almost the same type of approach.
“We will get good feedback from our technical team that went to watch the Algeria vs Nigeria clash, sit down, analyse them and find an approach to deal with them. Once again, it is always going to be 70 percent of what we do and the other 30 percent of what they are about – otherwise you lose focus on your strengths if you focus too much on the opposition.”
Da Gama said his team had to be very optimistic and very positive and tell themselves that they have a very good chance in this game.
“The mood in the camp is very positive and we know what we are capable of on the day and I still believe if we get it right on the day we will come out victorious.
“The people of South Africa are the ones who brought us here because they rallied behind us, they supported us all the way with prayers and messages of encouragement and the boys are doing it for all the people of the country – at the end of the day it is not about us but about the country.
Meanwhile Gift Motupa is the only casualty from the 1-0 win over Tunisia. He is still undergoing medical treatment after he got a knock on the ankle. But he is expected to be ready for the clash on Wednesday.
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