South African Under-23 captain Tercious Malepe is on the cusp of making history with a second successive Olympic Games appearance, but the defender is refusing to count his chickens.
The 22-year-old led the national team to a bronze medal at the recently concluded age-limit Afcon in Egypt, a feat that earned coach David Notoane’s team a ticket to next year’s Games.
The Tokyo Games in July could be Malepe’s second bite at an Olympic experience as he was part of coach Owen Da Gama’s team that took part in the 2016 Games in Brazil.
“I can’t say for sure I am going to my second Olympics because, with the national team, no one owns a position there. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re the captain or not,” said the utility Chippa United player, who is on loan from Orlando Pirates.
“One has to work hard, while crossing fingers against any eventualities leading to the Olympics, especially on preventing the injuries.”
South Africa beat Ghana 6-5 on penalties in a tense third-place play-off that ended 2-2 in regulation time. Malepe missed the opening spot kick, but goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto’s two stops ensured they joined African champions Egypt and runners up Ivory Coast as the continent’s three representatives in Tokyo.
Malepe, from Lebowakgomo in Limpopo, said he was encouraged by the words of Bafana Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki on their return last week.
Ntseki hailed the Tokyo-bound group as the “golden generation” of South African football and hinted that some would be promoted to Bafana Bafana.
“Yes, the coach is right in saying we are the golden generation. Our group has featured in three World Cups at various intervals. I was also part of the 2016 Olympic team,” said Malepe, who has already played for the senior team, albeit at Cosafa Cup level.
Eight of his team-mates who did duty in Egypt featured in the Under-20 World Cup in Poland earlier this year.
SA Under-23s - The golden generation
A number of players from the South African Under-23 team that finished third at the Afcon in Egypt have featured in more than one major international tournament. This is what recently earned them the “golden generation” of South African football tag.
2015 - Under-17 World Cup (Chile)
2017 - Under-20 World Cup (Korea Republic)
2019 - Under-20 World Cup (Poland)
“Consistency is key. If you look at the five years I have been in the professional ranks, I have worked hard and I will continue to do so until I reach the highest level,” vowed Malepe, who came through Pirates’ youth structures.
He also turned out for Moroka Swallows before the Birds were relegated to the ABC Motsepe League three years ago.
Malepe, or Terci Alonso to his peers, has enjoyed regular game time at Chippa United since he joined the Port Elizabeth-based outfit in August.
He missed his team’s past two matches – against AmaZulu and Kaizer Chiefs – while he was away on duty with the national team, but he would have missed them anyway as he was already serving a red-card suspension.
Malepe’s sending off in Chippa’s Telkom Knockout quarterfinal defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns raised suspicion that he deliberately tried to get carded.
At the time, Chippa were one of the local teams that were digging in their heels over the release of players for national duty in the Under-23 Afcon.
However, Malepe laughed off the accusation.
“Which player goes out [of their way] to get a red card? People will always have perceptions, but I don’t have time for negative energy. Instead, my coach, Norman Mapeza, was very supportive.”
Malepe played a full match on his return in Chippa’s 3-0 win over Black Leopards midweek.
The positive result was the Chilli Boys’ second victory of the season.