But Beijing is ultimate goal

RARING TO GO: South African Under-23 soccer squad hard at training in Johannesburg yesterday. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 25/06/07. © Sowetan.
RARING TO GO: South African Under-23 soccer squad hard at training in Johannesburg yesterday. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 25/06/07. © Sowetan.

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

The quest of the national Under-23 squad to qualify for the Beijing 2008 Olympics begins in earnest tomorrow when they take on China in one of the opening matches of the Sasol Eight Nations Tournament at Johannesburg Stadium (3.35pm).

The South Africans are expected to go into their opening match against China with gusto after the Chinese walloped them 3-1 in the final at Orlando Stadium last year.

The squad's selectors were forced to rope in Mamelodi Sundowns' young goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane after the withdrawal of Kaizer Chiefs' Itumeleng Khune and the unavailability of Andre Petim.

"Chiefs told us that they don't have a goalkeeper and they wanted to hold on to Itumeleng in their off-season preparations," Barney Kujane, the squad's project manager, explained yesterday.

"We could not locate Petim and the voice message on his cellphone says he is overseas. Erwin Isaacs was withdrawn because of an injury."

Steve Komphela and his assistant Serame Letsoaka will also be without Rudi Isaacs, who has rejoined SuperSport United after his loan agreement with Moroka Swallows expired.

Isaacs is travelling to Australia with United for their pre-season training camp.

The AmaZulu duo of Kagiso Senamela and Sibusiso Ntuli, and Pretoria University's pair of George Maluleka and Sifiso Sithole joined the squad yesterday.

This is because their teams were featuring in the National First Division Platinum playoffs final in KwaMashu on Sunday.

Overseas player Clive Moyo-Modise is expected to join the squad today.

The new teams in the tournament are Botswana, Cameroon and Egypt. They have replaced Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Senegal, who featured last season.

Botswana engage Cameroon in their opening tie in Eldorado Park at 3pm and Egypt entertain the Ivory Coast at Johannesburg Stadium at 1pm.

The Chinese team proved to be popular in last season's tournament and people used to enquire from Sowetan about their fixtures.

The revised squad is:

Goalkeepers - Jackson Mabokgwane, Senzo Meyiwa;

Defenders - Vincent Kobola, Bongani Khumalo, Thandoyise Koboni, Calvin Sosibo, Innocent Mungomeni, Kirk Leray, Alpheus Kekana;

Midfielders - Michael Nkambule, Bongani Thwala, Dumisani Masilela, Mkhanyiseli Siwahla, Lindokuhle Mkhwanazi, Kagiso Senamela, Michael Zuke, Bongani Mbhele, Sibusiso Msomi, Sifiso Masilela, Graham King, Philani Shange;

Strikers - Clive Moyo-Modise, Eleazar Rodgers, Sibusiso Ntuli, Excellent Walaza, Nhlanhla Vilakazi and George Maluleka.