Former Orlando Pirates star Steve Lekoelea believes the current under-23 team has the same talent as the Class of 2000 that represented the country at the Olympic Games in Sydney.
Lekoelea was part of the Amaglug-glug team which recorded a famous 3-1 victory against Brazil in their only win in the competition’s group stages.
“When I first looked at that team, I remembered how our team was full of quality players during those years,” he recalls wistfully.
“We had Benni (McCarthy, Jabu (Mahlangu), Siyabonga (Nomvethe) and many more quality players. It was our first appearance at the Olympics and we learned a lot from the games.”
“Surprisingly, we managed to beat the strongest team in our group, but ended up losing to two weak teams.
“But that was a lesson learned. Ahead of the Brazil game, we had a chat with the guys about the players in that Brazil squad, and of course Ronaldinho and Alex were the main subjects.
“We told ourselves we were not going into that game with fear, because we were as talented as they are and that really helped.”
“Now, our boys have stepped up and are on the verge of achieving the same feat as we did. All they have to do is believe in themselves in order to do well. Once they believe they can qualify, then they will achieve that.”
Owen da Gama’s side have a difficult task on Saturday, needing a win against Senegal in Third Place playoff match of the Caf Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations to confirm their Olympic spot.
“It is all in the mind, if you look at that team, from the goalkeeper to the strikers, they have great players. But everyone is capable of winning that game for us. I am going to single out one player now: Masuku (Menzi) is fantastic player. You saw what he did in the games against Zambia and Tunisia. He has shown he can carry the team and win the match for us,” added Lekoelea.
“You know playing in Africa is very difficult. The guys will need to redouble their efforts now. This is their chance to make the country proud – they should not let it slip.
“But, I believe in them as much as I believed in the squad we had. I just hope the people in charge of the national team won’t make the same mistake as they did with us.
“They should make sure they keep these boys as they are until they make it to the senior squad – that squad is the future of South African football.”