SA's Olympic Games hopefuls jet off on qualifying mission | TeamSA - TeamSA

SA’s Olympic Games hopefuls jet off on qualifying mission

The South African men’s U23 national soccer team jetted off to Senegal on Tuesday to begin their CAF Africa Cup of Nations campaign.
The eight-nation event runs from 28 November to 12 December 2015, and the top three will qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
South Africa head coach Owen da Gama knows there is a lot at stake. The last time South Africa qualified for the Olympic Games was back in 2000 under current Bafana Bafana head coach Ephraim Mashaba.
‘It is history for us and the players know it. Should things go our way then the players will go down in history as the second South African team to have qualified for the Olympic Games. The fact that we have reached a tournament of the best on the continent already means a lot and is something to smile about. We are carrying the national flag and we have to do it for the 52 million South Africans, and these players are proud to be doing that for the nation,’ said Da Gama after the squad’s training session at Eldorado Park earlier on Tuesday.
For Da Gama’s boys to do well, mental strength will be key. ‘In our last camp the theme was about mental strength. We have prepared them for the worst possible scenario in Senegal. These boys have proven that intimidation does not work with them. They are also streetwise because they come from difficult backgrounds and understand all these things. They have played on fields without grass, in extreme heat and anything you can think of. So we just have to go there and compete and do our best,’ added Da Gama.
South Africa is in Group A with the hosts Senegal, as well as Zambia and Tunisia and their opening match will be against Senegal on Saturday at the Leopold Stadium in Dakar (5pm SA time).
‘This is the last feeder team to Bafana Bafana, and it’s also an opportunity for our boys to get international experience so that when they get to Bafana Bafana they don’t struggle, and it is not a cultural shock when they travel to other countries. We don’t want to offer any excuses, we going to this tournament as best prepared as possible and it is important to understand the bigger picture beyond the tournament,’ said Da Gama.
South Africa’s second clash is against Zambia on Tuesday, 1 December, while the last group stages match is scheduled for Saturday, 4 December at the Caroline Faye Stadium in Mbour.
Group B, which will be in Mbour, features Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Mali.

South Africa’s AFCON Fixtures:

v Senegal
Léopold Senghor Stadium, 5pm SA time

Tuesday, 1 December
v Zambia
Léopold Senghor Stadium, 5pm SA time

Saturday, 4 December
v Tunisia
Caroline Faye Stadium, 5pm SA time

Wednesday, 9 December

Léopold Senghor Stadium, 5 and 8.30pm SA time

Saturday, 12 December

Third Place Play-Offs:
Léopold Senghor Stadium, 5pm SA time

Léopold Senghor Stadium, 9pm SA time