The South Africa men’s under-23 national team will be aiming to cause a major upset when they face Rio Olympics hosts Brazil at the
Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasília, on Thursday evening.
Kick-off is at 4:00pm (local time), 9:00pm CAT.
Sixteen years after beating Seleção 3-1 in Sydney, Owen da Gama’s men will be out to repeat the feat – this time on Brazilian soil with over 200 million passionate fans demanding success.
Brazil have never won Olympic gold in the men’s football tournament, but will be hot favourites to finally end the curse in their own backyard.
Having watched bitter rivals Argentina win back-to-back golds in Athens and Beijing; Brazil were desperate to claim top honours in London, but lost to Mexico in the final.
Defeat handing the South American’s a third silver medal – having also won bronze on two previous occasions.
With the dust having barely settled following their failure to win the 2014 Fifa World Cup on their own turf, pressure will again be on Barcelona attacker Neymar to deliver the goods.
Ronaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos are but some of the players to have tried and failed to win gold with Brazil at the Olympics – the only major honour that continues to elude the five-time Fifa World Cup winners.
Brazil have been drawn in Group A alongside South Africa, Denmark and Iraq and should on paper at least breeze into the knockout stages.
But, having beaten the mighty Seleção in 2000, South Africa’s under-23’s are confident the can again upset the odds.
Spearheaded by Mamelodi Sundowns winger Keagan Dolly, who will also captain the side, South Africa – participating in men’s football tournament for only the second time – will take things one step at a time.
“For us it is about getting through the first game against Brazil, taking each game is it comes. We are not thinking of a medal just yet, our first task is to qualify for the knockout stages,” said Dolly.
A lot has been made of the inclusion of Kaizer Chiefs duo Itumeleng Khune and Eric Mathoho – the two overage player in the squad. But Dolly has welcomed the Amakhosi pair; who will add a wealth of experience.
“We know it is going to be tough. They [Brazil] play at the highest level, but for us it is about going there and to not respect them, we have a quality team with the inclusion of Khune and Mathoho; they bring a lot of experience.
“Earlier in the year, when we played Brazil in Brazil they scored two early goals from set-pieces. Knowing they [Khune and Mathoho] are there, that will help us,” Dolly concluded.
Khune and Nigeria skipper Mikel Obi are the two most established players at the Rio Olympics with 75 full international caps each.
South Africa qualified for the world showpiece after finishing third at the 2015 under-23 African Cup of Nations in Senegal.
Brazil U23 predicted XI: Weverton; Zeca, Marquinhos, Caio, D Santos; T Maia, R Augusto; F Anderson; Neymar (c), Gabigol, Gabriel Jesus
South Africa U23 starting XI: Khune; Mekoa; Mobara; Coetzee;Mathoho; Mvala; Motupa; Dolly (c);Modiba;Masuku; Mothiba