SA U23 coach Owen Da Gama said he is seeing something special coming out of this squad.
Speaking after watching his side ‘robbed’ of victory after putting up a sterling performance against Zimbabwe at Rufaro Stadium in the first leg of this Olympic qualifier on Sunday, Da Gama said the boys are looking hungry, focused and determined to achieve something special for the country.
The U23 had taken a well deserved lead through inspirational midfielder Keagan Dolly midway through the second half but with the Olympic squad headed for a famous win, the Zambian official, apparently intimidated by the vociferous home crowd, pointed to the spot as shocked South African officials looked in disbelief. He adjudged that captain Kwanda Mngonyama had handled the ball in the box following a cross in the box although replays showed him controlling the cross with his chest.
“I still maintain that was not a penalty; not in a million times, never. But in football you have to admit in home-town decisions. That was one of those horrible decisions but I am proud of the boys,” said Da Gama.
He said the squad would reassemble on Sunday to start preparing for the return leg and was hopeful this group of players would go places.
“I see their desire and purpose; they want to go to Rio next year for Olympics. They know doing well in this tournament would also open doors for their respective careers. That is good motivation on its own.”
Assistant coach Shaun Bartlett told the players to go back to their respective players and maintain their work ethic and shape.
“We have only done half the job; we need to finish it off during the second leg. You have what it takes to go all the way. Just maintain your discipline, continue working hard and most things will generally take care of themselves,” said the former Bafana Bafana star to the team after the game.
Goal-scorer Dolly said while he was personally happy with his excellent performance, he said it would have been terrific to leave Harare with a win.
“If we maintain the same high standards, the sky is definitely the limit. But first of all, we need to do it all over again in the second leg and beat Zimbabwe to qualify for the 8-Nation tournament in Senegal.
“There it would be anyone’s game I tell you. The more we play together, the more we grow in confidence. We made a bright start and I believe we can only get better,” added the exciting midfielder.