Saturday, 5 December 2015

OWEN UP! How Da Gama gave the football-speaking nation something to cheer about

DYNAMIC DUO: Mashaba and Da Gama
FOR around two hours on Friday night, South Africa’s success-starved football-lovers were able to enjoy significant bragging rights over the rugby and cricket-speaking types who have dominated our sporting sphere for so long.

It wasn’t the greatest game in the world but Bafana Bafana’s U23 victory over Tunisia, thanks to a single late goal from Menzi Masuku, ends a year of living miserably for disk lovers on the southern tip of Africa.

On Wednesday night, this bright bunch of hopefuls will take on Algeria for a place in the CAF U23 semi-final while perfect hosts Senegal play Nigeria. Even if Bafana lose, they get a second chance to qualify for the Rio Olympics next year in the 3rd/4th play-off, where the winners qualify.

Owen Da Gama’s outfit have proved yet again that a week can be a long time in football. The opening 3-1 defeat against Senegal appeared to presage the usual disappointment. Our defence, bolstered by Bafana Bafana’s youngest-ever cap Rivaldo Coetzee, was disjointed. SuperSport United’s Denwin Farmer suffered concussion, and we all suffered the headache with him.

But that eight-minute three-goal spree against Zambia on Tuesday made all the difference. Orlando Pirates pair Gift Motupa - two - and Menzi Masuku, flown in straight from the CAF Confederations Cup second-leg defeat, did the damage.

Though Zambia had taken the lead and scored a late knee-trembler to make it 3-2, Da Gama suddenly found his side in a great position going in to Friday night’s final group game.

From bottom of the group to second in one step, the side formerly known as AmaGlugGlug were ahead of Tunisia on goals scored - both had a goal difference of minus one -  and with every chance of a top two finish in Group A.

The critics, myself included, were reeling. Da Gama made SIX changes for the second game, switched goalkeepers from Ricardo Goss of Golden Arrows to Jody February of Ajax Cape Town, and threw the captain’s armband to Keagan Dolly.

It was all there: not knowing you best side for the opening game, rotating goalkeepers and switching captains. All the hallmarks of the Shakes Mashaba regime… but this time hope was a strange addition to the mix. Just a draw was required.

The first half in M’Bour on Friday was pretty routine stuff. South Africa had the best of the possession, Motupa had a couple of chance to add to his tally and captain Dolly was twice denied by Tunisian goalkeeper Ben Hsa, the second a seriously lethal free-kick.

But without the goal cushion, few were sitting comfortably as Tunisia launched attack after attack in the second half. A single goal would have derailed South Africa’s Olympic ambitions - but then super-sub Phakamani Mahlambi took to the field.

The 18-year-old Wits front-runner, described as “better than Benni McCarthy” by his club boss Gavin Hunt, immediately added impetus and flair. A rampage down the right, a cross… and Menzi Masuku was able to make up for the gift he’d missed two minutes earlier.

That simple tap-in was a perfect response to Pirates’ heart-breaking defeat against Etoile du Sahel and gives BafanaBafana every chance of joining BanyanaBanyana at the Rio summer games next year. To repeat: Three of the four semi-finalists will to to Brazil, giving AmaGlugGlug two chances of qualification.

Though our beloved national broadcaster failed to show the game and SuperSport TV did so without any analysis or post-match, it was a significant moment. With our cricket team getting crushed in India and the Springboks losing their coach, football could finally take centre-stage with something more than a grimace.

Da Gama, voted the best player in Ireland during his time with Derry City in the mid-1980s, can actually dream of a tournament win, but for now it’s one game at a time “Our objective is to win the semi-final. No more. No less.

"It was a very tough game. Credit to the boys, we always said we want to peak at the right time.

”The boys need to rest before Wednesday night. We want a place on the podium.”

Once nicknamed “Rubber Doll” by his fellow players, Da Gama’s bouncebackability is now beyond question. Just how high he can bounce, we are about to find out.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good perfomance,but let's hope they win the semis and qualify for Rio

  3. Luck seem to follow Dagama. He took a gamble by leaving two spaces for Motupa and Masuka who were in tunisia. That gamble is the reason U23 are through to the next round. I will not be surprised if Owen reaches the finals or even better, winning it. I still remember your post criticizing Him for puting Rivaldo in the first game. Your critics then made sense but now with this current events, Owen knew what He was doing.