6 December 2015 – The South African u23 Men’s National Team will face Algeria in the semi-final of the CAF u23 Africa Cup of Nations tournament currently underway in Senegal.
Algeria finished top of Group B after a goalless draw against Nigeria on Saturday, 5 December setting up a clash with Owen 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 and South Africa meet on Wednesday, 9 December at Stade Leopold Senghor in Dakar.
Algeria comes 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 encounter, hosts Senegal are up against Nigeria on the same day and at the same venue.
Kickoff for this clash is at 17h00 South African time (15h00 local time).
The South Africans are back in Dakar. They will have their first training session this afternoon (Sunday, 6 December) to prepare for Algeria.
SAFA Media sat down with head coach Owen da Gama to get his thoughts.
Matlhomola Morake: Coach we are now in the business end of the competition.
Owen da Gama: Oh yes, the dream lives on. When we left home the mission was to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games, and we are still on track. We mentioned that we will take 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.
MM: Your thoughts on the Tunisia clash?
ODG: We are very excited about qualifying for the semi finals but it was a very tough match against Tunisia, and all credit must go to the players, they 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.
ODG: Most definitely, I mean we are talking about one of the best teams on the continent. They are a quality team and really gave us a run for our money, but this is what you expect at this level. So yes, they really gave us some scary moments and on the day we can even go as far as to say luck was on our side.
MM: We did not start the tournament well but against Tunisia the boys raised their hands
ODG: Yes 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.
MM: Talking about the next one, we are facing Algeria….
ODG: 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.
MM: Algeria, another North African opposition
ODG: Yes 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, analyze 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.
MM: Could it be the same approach as Tunisia?
ODG: Well, more or less the same approach because they are not that different from Tunisia. The most important thing is to plan well and stick to that plan. Remember they may be from the same school of thought in terms of approach but also bear in mind that they have different players and the stage of the competition is very sensitive because a win here takes you straight to the final of the tournament and to Rio, so we have to be at our best and not take them for granted because we beat Tunisia. They present a different challenge so we also have to approach them differently.
MM: Rest day for the boys on Sunday, but three days to prepare for Wednesday’s clash.
ODG: We have a slight advantage of at least one extra day of rest and that will certainly help us. We played three matches in one week and the body is bound to take a beating, so the rest day is much welcome. But what is also pleasing is that we have three days of training and that will certainly come in handy because the last three matches we only had one training session in between, so this time we will have more time to prepare and more time for the players to recover.
MM: You watched Algeria vs Nigeria can we fancy our chances against Algeria after what you saw?
ODG: We have to be very optimistic, we have to be very positive and tell ourselves that we have a very good chance in this game and most likely the opposition will be saying the same. 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.
MM: Message to the fans back home?
ODG: 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. We are representing the people of South Africa and want to thank them for rallying behind us and believing in us. We will do our best to make them happy.
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 semi-final clash on Wednesday.
CAF u23 AFCON Fixtures:
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
1st Group A (Senegal) vs 2nd Group B (Nigeria)
15h00 (17h00 SA time)
1st Group B (Algeria) vs 2nd Group A (South Africa)
18h30 (20h30 SA time)
Both at Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal)
Saturday, 12 December 2015
3rd Place Play Offs:
Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal)
16h00 (18h00 SA Time)
Léopold Senghor Stadium (Senegal)
19h00 (21h00 SA Time)