By Mark Etheridge
in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Team South Africa got the second loudest cheer of the day as the African Union Region 5 Under-20 Youth Games officially opened here on Sunday.
Lead by flagbearer Rivaldo Roberts the team were second last of 10 nations to enter the Barbourfields Stadium, which has a 22,000 capacity.
After the hoisting of four flags – the Zimbabwean national flag, the Games flag, African Union flag and African Union Sports Council Region 5 Games – the crowd were addressed by President Robert Mugabe.
The president roared into the stadium in his Zim-1 licenced Mercedes as armed guards scattered around the field’s perimeter.
Said the President: ‘I appreciate that it has taken a lot of dedication and commitment to organise the Regional Games. It has required teamwork and maximum effort from everyone involved.
‘I accordingly wish to congratulate you all, the regional and local organising committees and the respective chairpersons, on your through preparations which undoubtedly assure us of successful sporting competitions.
‘Amhophe, Makorokoto! I wish all participants the best of luck.’
The official Games torch was then brought into the stadium by six torchbearers, the various Athletes Representative, technical officials representative and volunteers representatives were taken and the crowd were then entertained to a fine display from over 500 dancers – interrupted briefly as the President departed.
And then it was on to the sporting action, the third day of competition at these games which end on Sunday 14 December.
The South African women’s soccer side had the honour of being in action, against the host nation’s girls.
And the youngsters’ 5-0 win should send a wave of confidence through the Team South Africa ranks.
Gaby Salgado soon set the tone when she hit the cross bar with a fierce shot from more than 20 metres out but it was only five minutes before coach Sheryl Botes’ charges hit the front.
Two-goal hero in the 3-1 win against Botswana on Thursday, Mosili Makhoali stooped low to head past the keep on the far post after a great cross from Amogalang Motau to put SA in front.
Makhoali doubled her and the team’s tally in the 27th after more good combining with Motau and in first half added time No7 Linda Sepotokele scored the goal of the match after a lovely little 1-2, before going past a defender and neatly beating the Zimbabwean keeper.
In the second half, the 11th minute saw Makhoali grab her hat-trick as she latched on to a goalkick from keeper Kebotseng Moletsane and rounded the opposing keeper to slot home.
Four minutes later and it was 5-0 as Salgado prodded home after a goalmouth scramble.
The hapless home side resorted to some desperate tactics to stem the tide and both Salgado and defender Amanda Mthandi left the field injured.
Coach Botes was delighted afterwards. She told Road to Rio 2016: ‘I certainly didn’t expect a 5-0 result tonight. I expected a tough and physical match because with such a big home crowd and President Mugabe having been here we were certainly at a disadvantage.
‘But I’m very proud how how well this time have done.’
And what about Makhoali? ‘She is a top-class striker and I’m happy to have her in my team. I can see big things happening for this child.’
The South Africans now take on Namibia in their final clash on Wednesday and with there only being four teams at this tournament it would take a miracle for South Africa being denied gold.
Monday sees a whole host of sports getting underway. Boxing and tennis continue from Saturday’s activities and athletics and judo get underway. The judo competition is wrapped up in the space of a day.
There was also further honour that came South Africa’s way in the form of a trophy awarded to former Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile for the work he did in creating the Zone VI legacy, as these Games were formerly known as. In his absence, SASCOC board member, Jerry Segwaba accepted the award.
Traditionally, South Africa have dominated the medals tally at these Games and Monday should see the first of many medals coming their way.