Banyana Banyana and the South African u23 National Team have all but wrapped up their preparations on home soil. On Saturday they departed for Brazil for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games starting next month.
The two national teams qualified for the world’s biggest sporting spectacle last year in October (Banyana Banyana with a win over Equatorial Guinea) in December 2015 and (SA u23 coming third at the CAF u23 AFCON in Senegal).
The Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana squad has played friendly games against Cameroon, Zimbabwe, The Netherlands and the USA as well as two home and away African Women’s Qualifiers against Botswana. They have also been holding training camps in between.
In Rio, they will face Sweden, China and hosts Brazil.
“It has been a very long and hard journey for all of us when we started camp back in November last year, now we can’t wait to get to Brazil for the start of competition. I must admit we have had one of the best preparations where we faced, amongst others, the world’s top ranked national team, the USA – what more can we ask for? We have to thank SAFA for all the efforts in making sure we are well prepared for the Olympics, not forgetting our proud sponsors Sasol and our partner National Lotteries Commission for travelling the journey with us, we can never thank you enough,” said Banyana Banyana coach Vera Pauw.
“What remains now is for us to get to Rio and round off preparations with our last friendly match against New Zealand. I am happy with the progress we have made, and the players are in a good condition. This week we changed our programme to start adapting to the Brazilian times and we are getting used to it, which means there won’t be much of a struggle to adapt. We will do our best and ensure we fly the flag high.”
Banyana Banyana will face New Zealand on Thursday, 28 July in Rio.
The SA u23 travelled to Brazil for an international friendly match, won the 2016 COSAFA Cup in Namibia and then faced Japan to get ready for the competition.
“We are fortunate enough that our players are playing professional football and they have been able to keep in shape even long after the end of the season. We also have to thank SAFA for allowing us to play in the COSAFA Cup as well as all the partners – like the Nationa;l Lotteries Commission, who supported us with our preparations,” said SA u23 coach Owen da Gama.
“I believe we have selected a team strong enough to hold their own anywhere and against anyone and we are eagerly looking forward to the opening match against the hosts which will determine our way forward. I remain confident that we will do well.”
The SA u23 team is in the same group as Brazil, Denmark and Iraq.
Da Gama’s charges last qualified for the Olympics 15 years ago under the guidance of current Bafana Bafana coach Ephraim Shakes Mashaba while this is Banyana Banyana’s second qualification in a row.
“We are very proud of the great work these two teams have done, putting South Africa and SAFA on the map, once again. The qualification is just an indication that Vision 2022 is alive and well, and we on the right track. We could not have done this without our financial partners Sasol and the support of the National Lotteries Commission – they came to the party when they were needed the most, to assist with this mammoth task of preparing a team for the Olympics and we are forever indebted to them,” said SAFA President Dr Danny Jordaan.” “As Banyana Banyana and the SA u23 squad are about to depart from these shores to battle it out with the best in the world, let me take this opportunity to once again wish them a safe journey and a successful tournament. To the players, your coaches have done everything they could to prepare you for the battle ahead, what is left is for you take the ball and run with it. Good luck and may you return victorious.”