The South African national Under-23 squad led by coach Owen Da Gama safely arrived at the Grand Park hotel in Palestine in the early hours of Wednesday following a stop-over in Addis Ababa. Three additional players would join the squad either today or early tomorrow morning for the international friendly game against Palestine scheduled for Saturday 16:00 kickoff at the Hebron Stadium. However, before the game, Da Gama has arranged a friendly match against a local side on Thursday in the hope that it would give him an early indication of how he would approach Saturday’s encounter.
Da Gama said: ‘The road to Rio 2016 starts this week. After this friendly game, we will go straight into camp to prepare for the first leg encounter against Sudan in the All Africa Games qualifier. Then its qualifiers against either Zimbabwe or Swaziland for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and so it will get tougher with each passing day. We have experienced serious problems with players that we have selected being forced to withdraw because they did not have passports. We have identified a number of exceptionally talented and exciting players that would be brought into the set-up. And once Amajita have completed their African Youth Championship programme in Senegal, we will bring some of them into the fold.’ The national U-23 squad is headed for quite a busy period with the possibility that they would represent South Africa during the COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup scheduled for May in Rustenburg. They are also earmarked to fly the South African flag during qualifiers for the 2016 African Nations Championship and Da Gama is keeping his fingers crossed that clubs would continue to co-operate by releasing their players for national duty.