South Africa vs Mexico | Wednesday 28 July 2021 | Sapporo Dome | 13:30
It’s matchday three for Olympic football and a win for either team could mean qualification to the knockout stages. For South Africa, we whip out our calculators in the final matchday of Group A. Mexico, on the other hand, saw an outstanding performance in their opening fixture register El Tri as favourites against Japan, but the nation dismally failed to secure qualification. What more can these teams offer in possibly their last showing of the Tokyo Olympics?
South Africa 6/1
A heated seven-goal thriller against France took place with a tactically different approach from South Africa. Amaglug-glug looked full of energy and creativity compared to their reserved and highly defensive approach in their first fixture. Individuals shone and the team looked menacing but struggled to maintain a lead on three separate occasions, seeing a 4-3 loss to Les Bleus.
Head coach David Notoane was heavily questioned after the tactics of the team’s first performance, and in my opinion should still be questioned after such a loss. The nations quality is evident both defensively and with an attacking mindset, but the question arises in Notoane’s ability to showcase these attributes simultaneously.
Individual brilliance was on full display against France with Thabo Cele in control of the midfield, and Kobamelo Kodisang of Braga B down the left wing netting a goal and bagging an assist. The squad is still fully fit, with just James Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi still out after their failed COVID-19 tests before the start of the tournament.
One defensive display and one all out attacking play has seen South Africa lose both their fixtures. The only other way would have to be a measured approach to secure a win. The difficult part is South Africa have to win by two clear goals to have any chance of securing qualification for the knockout stages. With this calculation in mind, we can expect another all guns blazing performance from South Africa’s Under-23s.
After a positive start against France, Mexico were brought back to earth by the tournament hosts Japan in their second outing on the field. The intensity from the Mexicans was nullified when their midfield press was halted in Japan’s short passing game. Ultimately, the 68th minute red card put a dent in El Tri’s aspirations for three points.
The man behind the steering wheel, Jaime Lozano, has shown one style of play in his last two Olympic fixtures, and I am sure we can expect the same. He was not able to rally the boys together after a Johan Vasquez red card, and not many coaches can, but the style of play he has seemingly adopted for the Olympics does not work with just 10 men. The red card comes as no surprise with the most fouls in Group A coming from Mexico.
First choice centre-back Vasquez will be suspended when they come up against South Africa. Aside from an obvious blow to the defence, the squad is still in great cohesion. All of Mexico’s Under 23s are very familiar with one another, playing out of Mexico’s top division with just Real Betis midfielder Diego Lainez making his way from La Liga.
We know what to expect out of Mexico’s Under 23s from the first whistle. High energy and snappy tackles to win the ball, accompanied by straight to the point attack in an exciting manner.
Prediction: Mexico (4/10)
It is all about intensity for Lozano, and I do not see any other way from his team. They are brash and committed to their tackles and the physicality will be too much for the South Africans.
I am not dismissing the improved or rather more attacking performance against France, but France have been extremely underwhelming and did not deserve the win over South Africa. Keeping in mind performances to results, South Africa versus Mexico is looking to be a cracking encounter with Mexico edging the win.