The U23 men’s national team overachieved in their opening game, given the challenges they have faced since their arrival in Tokyo, an insider has told the Siya crew.
Coach David Notoane took on his toughest test yet on Thursday afternoon with a clash against hosts Japan in their first Group A match at the Japan Olympics, but losing only 1-0 is understood to have hidden the turmoil the squad has faced since touching down for the multi-coded sporting event earlier in the week.
“It’s been tough. They operated with two groups and have used Zoom for analysis and team meetings prior to facing a team that has had six practice matches – we can say the boys overachieved, honestly,” said a source who has travelled with the U23s and has witnessed their far-from-ideal preparations.
Shortly after landing at their base in Tokyo, the team underwent mandatory Covid-19 tests and there were three positive cases reported, among them two players in Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi as well as video analyst Mario Masha.
This meant Notoane’s team had to isolate at the hotel, but only given the all clear on Monday, three days before the match.
“On match day, team SA was split into two change rooms, but the other team (Japan) were allowed to walk around in the park. They were also not allowed to have a pre-match meal or meeting. Unbelievable – all this in the name of social distancing. Then on Thursday the SA team had to have two Covid tests instead of one. It’s all just a stigma.”
Next up is France on Sunday, and it remains to be seen how Notoane, who was surprisingly upbeat in his post-match yesterday, copes.
“I am really proud of the players. They gave a performance that I didn’t expect and we take that confidence going into the next match. We played survival football, which is not how we play, but the dynamics changed when we lost players.” he told journalists.
Asked what it was like putting in a shift of 90 minutes while stuck in a hotel room for most of the week, captain Tercious Malepe admitted it was a challenge, but applauded his teammates for the effort they put in.
“Of course the preparations were tough. We tried to go to a place that was warm back home, where it is winter at the moment. It wasn’t easy. We came early here hoping we would have enough time to acclimatise, but unfortunately Covid happened – that limited us. It was not easy sitting in your room, going to eat and then going back. But we responded well,” he said.
Story by @superjourno