The South African Under-23 team need to be mentally much stronger‚ and coach Owen da Gama hopes their tough trip to Japan to suffer a 4-1 friendly defeat helps improve that aspect of his team.
A brace by Shoya Nakajima and goals from Shinya Yajima and Takuma Asano silenced Da Gama’s side at Matsumotodaira Park Stadium in Matsumoto on Wednesday after Gift Motupa had put the South Africans ahead from a penalty.
South Africa’s U-23s won the Cosafa Cup with a competitive 3-2 victory against Botswana in the final in Windhoek‚ Namibia‚ last Saturday night. They travelled to Japan‚ via Johannesburg‚ on Sunday.
Both Japan and South Africa have qualified for the Rio 2016 men’s Olympic football tournament in August.
“First and foremost‚ no excuses – Japan were better than us‚” Da Gama said.
“Second‚ I think for us‚ the whole preparation coning from a big tournament at the Cosafa‚ flying for more than 24 hours across time zones – it was a bit taxing on the boys.
“I thought we did very well for the first 25 minutes‚ and then the players started complaining about heavy legs.
“But that’s no excuse. This is all about mental strength. We’re trying to build these players‚ mental strength to the highest possible level.
“We’re pushing them through the limits. That’s why I also told them this [the travel] is no excuse. They’ve got to mentally adjust to another level.
“So we’d really like to thank everyone in Japan for inviting us. We’re just disappointed that we couldn’t push for more than 25 minutes.”
Da Gama will be hoping that‚ with the addition of his three overage players – Itumeleng Khune‚ Mulomowandau Mathoho and Andile Jali – and some players missing at the Cosafa and in Japan‚ he will have a competitive team in Brazil.
Phumlani Ntshangase (injured)‚ Keagan Dolly and Lebogang Mothiba (both excused) are key eligible players who were not with the U23s in Japan.
Da Gama was impressed with Asian U-23 champions Japan’s organisation.
“The most impressive thing about the Japanese team was their discipline. And whatever they do their strengths are that they do it all the time and they do it correctly‚” the U-23 coach said.
“From our point of view I think we’re a footballing team. We play with a lot of possession‚ keeping the ball on the ground and moving very quickly.”
South Africa kick off their Olympic tournament against hosts Brazil in Brasilia on August 4. Da Gama’s team also have Denmark and Iraq in Group A.
Japan meet Nigeria on August 4 in their opening match of Group B‚ where they are also drawn with Sweden and Colombia