By Gary Lemke in Rio
Owen da Gama’s class of 2016 are keen to write their own chapter in South African football folklore when they meet the hosts in the opening game of the men’s tournament at the Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia on Thursday.
Back at the 2000 Olympics Amagluglug scored a stunning 3-1 win over a Brazil side that included the likes of Ronaldinho and Lucio still brings back memories.
The painful memories of Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 semi final defeat at the hands of Germany in the 2014 World Cup still haunt this football-mad nation who are keen to complete the full set of titles in men’s football by adding the missing Olympic gold medal to their collection.
All of this means that South Africa have the advantage of facing an opponent under immense pressure to deliver, particularly since their mainly locally-based squad has been significantly boosted by the addition of superstar Neymar as one of the team’s three over-aged players.
The inclusion of goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and Erick Mothoho, who will slot in alongside fellow Bafana Bafana regular Rivaldo Coetzee, adds solidity to South Africa’ defence but it’s in midfield where they will need to stop the supply line to the Barcelona kingpin and Lazio star Felipe Anderson, whose pace and trickery bring a different challenge.
While being wary of the blunting the obvious threat posed by Neymar, Da Gama has been in the game long enough to know that focusing on one player could provide the space for the Brazilian’s fellow attackers to exploit.
‘Neymar is key to their cause but we are not going to treat him differently from the rest of their players. I acknowledge their quality and potential as a team. We will need to pull out all the stops to compete against them,’ he said.
The coach could opt to use Orlando Pirates’ Abbubaker Mobara, Coetzee’s regular partner in central defence during his time at Ajax Cape Town, in the midfield anchor role to provide a screen for the defence while former captain Kwanda Mngonyama is also an option in that position.
South Africa’s strength lies in their attack. If captain Keagan Dolly can transfer his terrific form for Mamelodi Sundowns to the international stage, his vision and ability to pick a killer pass could cause the Brazil defence a few headaches. The skills of players Menzi Masuku, Deolin Mekoa and France-based Lebogang Mothiba, and who are all capable gliding past their opponents, make them a danger to any defence.
‘I believe we have the ability to give Brazil a run for their money. We are a strong team with very good players. When you look at our attacking players, you can just tell that the opposition is in trouble,’ Mekoa told the Safa website.
Brazil’s comfortable 3-1 victory in their friendly in March, plus home ground advantage and the greater big match experience make them favourites, but playing without any pressure should make South Africa dangerous opponents.
The match kicks off at 21:00.