South Africa’s Under-23 National team and Women’s Senior National Team, Banyana Banyana, go into the Olympic qualifier weekend return fixtures, aware that good results from the two sides will go a long way in changing the face of South African football. The Under-23s take on Zimbabwe in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday evening (kick-off 20:15) with the match finely poised at 1-1 from the first leg in which South Africa were unfortunate not to have come out with a crucial away win; looking to seal a berth in the 8-Nation tourney scheduled for Senegal. On the other side of the continent, Banyana Banyana are in the East African hub of Kenya where they carry a slender 1-0 lead from the first leg knowing fans expect nothing short of qualification to the next round when they take on the Harambee Starlets.
The Banyana Banyana versus Kenya match takes place in the remote town of Machakos on the eastern part of the capital Nairobi and kicks off at 14:30 South African time. Under-23 assistant coach Shaun Barlett says: ‘This is a massive week for South African football and I am confident that come the end of Saturday and Sunday, both the Under-23 and Banyana Banyana will have taken a major stride towards qualifying for Rio 2016. This will almost be unprecedented but expected taking into consideration the effort put into our game by the SAFA leadership and all those involved.’ The former Bafana Bafana star who led Golden Arrows back into the Premier Soccer League last season said the two squads were complimenting each other in these qualification processes.
Bartlett says: ‘We were in Harare for the first leg when news came that Banyana Banyana had beaten Kenya and that somehow galvanised us into making sure we also come out of Harare with a good result. We will be out to return the favour on Saturday when we meet Zimbabwe first.’ SAFA President Dr Danny Jordaan said this was a big weekend for South African football in which two of the country’s squads will vie for slots in the Olympic Games: ‘We have invested a lot in our game lately and the fruits of such sacrifices are there for all to see. We have been speaking of Vision 2022 and I am glad to say we are slowly realising this goal sooner than expected. This is good for the country’s football image, good for the players’ careers and puts SAFA as one of the leading Associations on the continent and globally in good standing. To both the Under-23 and Banyana Banyana, I would want to say good luck in your weekend games. Go and do the country proud and close the Mandela month in style.’
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