We're no pushovers - Da Gama

HARARE - South Africa Under-23 coach Owen da Gama says they respect the Young Warriors but they have come here to get a result in tomorrow’s Africa Under-23 Championship qualifier.

The Young Warriors host South Africa in the first leg at Rufaro Stadium tomorrow hoping to get a comfortable lead to defend in the second leg in Johannesburg two weeks later.

The African Under-23 Championship acts as the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games football tournament.

Da Gama and his squad arrived in Harare yesterday at midday before conducting their first training session at the match venue later in the afternoon.

“It’s my first time here and it is really an honour to be visiting your country. We are looking forward to a productive game. A game that will ensure the supporters of Zimbabwe will appreciate the good football that will be played.

“We understand the Zimbabwe Under-23 is a very, very good team. We saw them at the Cosafa in 2012 and there was a good progression in that regard.

“Obviously, there are guys like Kuda Mahachi, who play in South Africa and are in the squad, so I think it’s going to be a very good game. We would want to keep our cards as close to our chests as possible. We cannot be talking about approaches and tactics at this stage.

“We have got our game plan and we are going to try our best to implement and complete that game plan,” said Da Gama.

South Africa’s Absa Premiership is currently on an off-season break with most players last playing competitive football back in May.

The South Africans have been in camp since last week and Da Gama feels they have had enough time to prepare.   

“We played three friendlies against PSL teams and the boys have been fantastic. Fortunately enough, most of the PSL teams give their players an active rest programme.

“Of course, they will be resting but there is still some activity to make sure they do not lose their fitness. The boys are very sharp and they have done very, very well,” he said.

Da Gama was deprived of the services of three key players — Menzi Masuku, Thapelo Morena and Phumlani Ntshangase — for tomorrow’s match.

“This is football and it happens. It could have happened that a player is injured but it gives another player an opportunity.

“That’s what our Under-23 team is about. It’s about trying to get to the Olympics but also preparing players and giving them an opportunity to play for Bafana Bafana,” said da Gama.

Rufaro has an artificial turf which tends to take time for most visiting players to adjust to but that is not worrying the South Africa Under-23 coach.

“Look, we have got artificial turfs in South Africa and we have played some matches on artificial turf. We brush aside such excuses. There will always be challenges but challenges you put on one side and you concentrate on the positives.

“You concentrate on the work of the day. Even with Bafana Bafana, we went to play in Congo; we went to play in Sudan which have artificial pitches and we won the games. Yes it’s different but it’s certainly a challenge that we are very, very much up to.”

Former Bafana Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett, who has been roped in by the South African Football Association (Safa) to be da Gama’s assistant believes they have a good squad that can spring a surprise tomorrow.

“We know it’s always going to be a challenge. Zimbabwe do not want to lose but for us it’s important to make sure we can get a positive result to go with for the second leg.

“We know they have got a very good team. They have a couple of players playing in South Africa that we know of and on Sunday (tomorrow) we are going to do what we do best.

“We have got some quality players in our team as well and if we can stop Zimbabwe from scoring it will give us a good chance of winning the game,” said Bartlett.

SA Under-23 Squad:

Goalkeepers: Ricardo Goss, Jordi February.

Defenders: Kwanda Mngonyama, Tshepo Rikhotso, Thabo Makhele, Zitha Macheke, Gino Moeketsi, Tebogo Moerane, Siyabonga Zulu.

Midfielders: Abbubakar Mobara, Ayabulela Konqoba, Motjeka Madisha, Keagan Dolly, Maphosa Modiba.

Strikers: Simphiwe Kambule, Dumisani Zuma, Siphelele Ntshangase, Siphamandla Dlamini. 

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