South Africa’s U-23 team have been in inspired form at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt since it began on 8 November 2019. They are the only team yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
They qualified for the semi-finals after finishing in second place behind Ivory Coast, after a 1-0 win and two nil-all draws.
Hosts Egypt await them on Tuesday evening in a semi-final.
This will be a repeat of a fixture at Afcon 2019 that saw their seniors, Bafana Bafana, knock out the Pharaohs in the quarter-finals this past winter.
David Notoane’s men seek to emulate the exploits of Bafana, and add salt to the gaping wound inflicted by Thembinkosi Lorch and company on the Egyptian nation.
It will be a tough endeavour for Amaglug-glug, as the U-23 team is affectionately known. Both teams are undefeated, but the Egyptians qualified for the knockout stage with a 100% record in Group A and are also the tournament’s leading scorers with six goals in the group stage.
Above all, they will have the backing of thousands of home fans. As noted by the Pharaohs’ captain, Ramadan Sobhi:
“Our target is to give our people something to cheer about. The only pressure we feel is the responsibility towards our people and country. Our target is the Olympic Games and now we are just one step [away]. South Africa is a good team. They might have the best defence so far, but we also have the best attack.”
But the South Africans seem unfazed.
“We are inspired by our senior team [Bafana Bafana] who defeated Egypt at home at the 2019 Afcon earlier this year. We know well how strong the Egyptians are, but we also know how to deal with them,” said Amaglug-glug coach Notoane.
South Africa is the only team remaining from Africa’s representatives at the last Olympics in Rio 2016; with Algeria having not qualified for this edition of Afcon and Nigeria finishing in third place behind Notoane’s men in Group B. Meanwhile, Egypt is eyeing their 12th appearance in the multi-sports quadrennial event; an African record.
Olympic qualification might be the immediate goal, but South Africa are intent on going all the way in this competition.
“This is a huge and tough game. We came to Egypt to win the title and we fear no one. Having not conceded any goal yet makes me proud, but what’s more important is to see my team winning. We will try to imitate our seniors and beat Egypt at their home,” said Amaglug-glug goalkeeper Darren Johnson.
The game will take place at the Cairo International Stadium, and kick-off is at 8pm South African time. DM