Monday, 8 August 2016

FOUR GAMES AT RIO, AND NOT A GOAL IN SIGHT: tales of the expected from our boys and girls

THE REDEEMER: Itumeleng Khune was magnificent
against Brazil in Rio but could not deny Denmark
IN summary: 360 minutes. Plenty of chances. NO GOALS.

Every South African footballer lover feared it would come to this. Four games played by our men’s and women’s teams at the Rio Olympics and still no scorers.

For Banyana Banyana, it comes as no great surprise. With no age restrictions on players, Vera Pauw’s team knew they were on a hiding to nothing, even after the hopeful 1-0 friendly defeat against the world’s No1 ranked women’s side, the USA.

The girls opened with a gritty display against Sweden, ranked 5th in the world. They showed little ambition but it took the classy Swedes an hour to conjure the only goal.

Against China, two or three early chances were missed and they went 1-0 down just before half-time before a long-range effort somehow squirmed past Roxanne Barker to give the world’s most populous nation a 2-0 win.

Next up? Brazil. Goodbye girls.

Owen da Gama’s men, in a competition which allows three over-age players in each U23 squad, can’t really look to world rankings given the format.

But no matter how you look at it, the opening 0-0 draw against hosts Brazil and their Barcelona superstar Neymar was impressive. Again, South Africa knew their limits. But until Mothobi Mvala’s naive red card, it could have gone either way.

Itumeleng Khune, the Bafana Bafana captain and Kaizer Chiefs No1, made three stunning saves, two of them from Neymar, to secure a vital point and hopes were high.

Game two against Denmark, who also drew their opener against Iraq 0-0, started with great optimism. Lebogang Mothiba (who should have done better) and Keagan Dolly (from range) both hit the cross-bar and for long periods, South Africa outplayed their European rivals.

There were saves at both ends, Itumeleng Khune somehow kept one out with his head and Jeppe Holberg made a series of blocks.

But in the 69th minute it was the Danish substitutes, Jacon Bruun Larsen and Robert Skov who confounded South Africa with Skov scoring the first goal in Group A as Tower Mathoho scurried across just too late to stop a devastating concession.

There had been a lot of talk from Da Gama, Dolly and Khune about “not making up the numbers” but in truth South Africa only qualified as third place finishers in Senegal on the back of Jody February’s penalty shoot-out heroics. Perhaps we were too optimistic.

Though not out-played by Brazil or Denmark, South Africa can take a lesson from our northern rivals. Nigeria managed to arrive in Brazil on the day of their opening game but still beat Japan 5-4 and then Sweden 1-0 to qualify for the quarter-finals with something to spare.

South Africa’s chances now look slim. With head-to-head the deciding factor, even a win over Iraq might not be enough in the men’s tournament, which features 16 nations and offers only the top two a route to the knock-out stages.

And Banyana Banyana, in a women’s gathering of 12 teams, cannot even make use of the two best third places on offer.

Still, Thursday night will provide another opportunity for South Africans to bite their nails and pull out their hair. A win over Iraq is imperative. And scoring is no longer an option.

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