In a scenario Safa technical director Neil Tovey aptly branded a “disgrace”, the national Under-23 team will begin their quest for next year’s Olympic Games qualification without a full quota of players in their opening match on Saturday.
Coach David Notoane confirmed on Friday that only 14 of the 21 players he had called up for the CAF Under-23 Afcon tournament would be part of the travelling party that departs for Cairo, Egypt, tomorrow.
The group is mainly comprised of players from the NFD’s GladAfrica Championship clubs after the PSL played ball to postpone the fixtures of the affected sides.
Notoane expects the remainder of his squad – mainly the players attached to premier division sides – to join the team in Egypt when the Fifa international break kicks in on November 11.
The junior continental championship gets under way on Friday and ends on November 22.
Although some days of the two-week competition fall outside the Fifa calendar, the tournament will determine the three nations that will represent Africa at the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. South Africa will face Zambia in their opening match on Saturday, despite the logistical nightmare that saw some local clubs being reluctant to release players for national duty.
“For a coach to have 14 players in his first match is not doing justice to this team. In fact, it’s a disgrace. It’s downright diabolical that they can’t have a top team,” a furious Tovey said during the team announcement on Friday.
“We need the support of the clubs. These same players have gone through the Under-17 and Under-20 teams. They have done well at the world cups and they are now playing for those clubs. And those clubs don’t want to have interest in the national team.
“It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to beg for players. I understand that clubs are fighting relegation; fighting for the top eight, the league title. But at the end of the day, those players will come back better to the club in the future,” argued Tovey. According to him, the team was chopped and changed six to seven times in the 10 days before the final squad announcement on Friday.
“The arrangements are such that we have players who are available to travel on Monday, which is 14 players. Most players participating in the PSL have games on November 5, 6 and 9. Some will join us after these dates, while others will arrive during the Fifa week,” explained Notoane, who will start the competition without captain Tercious Malepe from Chippa United.
Other players who will arrive late are the SuperSport United pair of Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule; Siyabonga Ngezana and Happy Mashiane of Kaizer Chiefs; and Orlando Pirates defender Thabiso Monyane.
Even overseas clubs were reluctant to release their players, except for Belgium-based Lyle Foster, and the Portugal-based duo of Kobamelo Kodisang and Luther Singh.
“It’s been an absolute nightmare for weeks, trying to put this team together. The clubs must put some thought into [their decisions] and not be selfish in their approach to the game. I’m not saying they don’t support the national teams, a lot of them do so in abundance,” said Tovey.
But this situation could have been avoided if the two parties – Safa and the PSL – had a good working relationship.