The South African U23 side have crashed out of the Tokyo Olympics, winless and pointless, following a 3-0 drubbing by Mexico on Wednesday. It was South Africa’s third loss in a row following their 1-0 loss to Japan in the opening match and a 4-3 loss to France following a spirited performance.
A meagre three shots on target tells a full story of a South Africa that look a shadow of itself from the team that took the match to the France on Sunday scoring three goals in the process.
South African coach, David Notoane, made two changes in the starting line-up from the team that looked offensively unrelenting against France, opting to start with Thendo Mukumele for Reeve Frosler on the right side of defence and Kamohelo Mahlatsi replacing Nkosingiphile Ngcobo in central midfield, moving from a 1-4-3-3 formation a 1-4-2-3-1 formation.
SAU23 Starting Line-up against Mexico. pic.twitter.com/1To4g5Y3UW
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The changes proved too costly in the creativity zone as Mahlatsi proved completely ineffective in the centre of the midfield often dropping deep and unable to connect with Thabo Cele the way Cele had connected with Ngcobo on Sunday.
Too far spread out in the midfield with lots of spaces for the Mexicans to take advantage of, the short pass interplay that had given the French problems could not be ignited.
It came as so surprise when on the 18th minute a poor pass from Cele trying to find Mahlatsi inside the centre circle gave away possession that resulted in Mexico going on a break attack, catching South Africa defensively disorganised with acres of spaces on the left side as Katlego Mohamme had pushed upfield. A cross from Uriel Antuna from the left found Alexis Vega who had the easiest of tap-ins to put the Mexicans ahead.
Only a handful of attempts to knit passes through the Mexican defence were recorded in the first half but not enough to really create clear goal-scoring chances.
On the stroke of halftime, the Mexican doubled the lead, again owing to some questionable defending from the South Africans – firstly, with Williams punching away a ball one would have expected him to rather catch, and then failure to deal with a ball that through a scramble found its way back into the area, eventually bouncing off Romo for a goal.
No changes were made by the South African technical team at the break, resulting in the continuation of an out-of-sorts performance by the South African in the second half.
Two minutes into the second stanza, the Mexican almost tripled their lead when Antuna again found acres of space in front of him again on the left side of the South African defence and a cross almost ended in the South African net coming off Tercious Malepe who was running facing his own goal.
Later on, a clumsy challenge by the Amazulu-bound central defender earned him a red card, leaving the team even more vulnerable in defence. It didn’t take time before the Mexicans benefited from the red card when Henry Martin through the middle found himself one-on-one with Williams and easily slotting it past the advancing SuperSport United goalkeeper.
In a bid to tighten the defence, Frosler was brought in for Kobamelo Kodisang.
The Mexican were also reduced to 10 men when Carlos Rodriquez was sent off for a professional foul on Luther Singh who looked set to go one-on-one with the Mexican goalkeeper.
South Africa began to look better in the creation zone when Ngcobo finally came on for Evidence Makgopa in the dying minutes of the match, but it was a little too late.
The South African technical team – who employed three different formations in all the three games, signaling a possible playing concept crisis – will perhaps need to introspect and decide on a concept that works for the team and work to make it a success going forward.
Earlier, Ivory Coast and Egypt, representing African, progressed to the knockout stages of the tournament after holding Germany to a 1-all draw.