SA advance in Olympic qualifiers

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South Africa joined Tanzania and Senegal in advancing to the next round of the 2012 London Olympic football qualifiers when they played out a goalless draw against a hard fighting Libya to advance 4-2 on aggregate at neutral Bamako on Saturday night.

Senegal were held to a goalless draw by Angola at home a fortnight ago and the junior Palancas Negras must have thought that they had done enough but the junior Taranga Lions fought hard enough to earn a 1-1 draw and advanced on the away goal rule.

It was a different story in Dar es Salaam where Cameroon brought a 2-1 lead from the first leg match but were shocked by the young Taifa Stars who also recorded a 2-1 victory to tie the game at 3-3 and forced a penalty shootout, which the hosts shaded 4-3 to advance as well.

South Africa were much more solid than in the first leg match at home with Orlando Pirates, Andile Jali throwing a protective shield in front of the back four where Bloemfontein Celtic’s Mathoho Mulomowandau once again displayed all the characteristics that have earned him the nickname “Tower” as he stood head and shoulders in the cauldron of Bamako.

But to single out a few individuals would be unfair as the boys collectively played with pride and wore their shirt sleeves on their hearts — Thulani Serero and Drogba Ndulula reportedly harassing the Libyan defence throughout an absorbing and tight encounter played under suffocating conditions.

Libya knew nothing short of a convincing 2-0 win would suffice and threw the book at the South Africans who played a controlled game where they never showed the jitters and excitement that were evident last week when they surrendered a healthy 4-0 lead and conceded two soft goals.

And the country needs to applaud several youngsters who sacrificed their club football and answered the national call, particularly Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town players who were rushed to the airport and flown to Dakar to connect and overnight flight to Johannesburg.

“We promised their clubs that we would rush them back as soon as the game had ended,” said National Team Manager Barney Kujane. “As it is I am with several youngsters here that I am rushing to the airport to ensure they are available for their clubs on Sunday.

“It is quite a huge sacrifice that these boys and their teams have done and I am grateful to the players as well as their clubs for putting the country first and what is even greater is that we took one step closer to the London Olympics,” added Kujane.

There will be another draw for a final qualification round to whittle the number down to eight teams that will go into two groups of four teams that will play in a mini league and the top two in each group will qualify for the Olympic Games in London in 2012. —Supersport