South Africa U23 coach Owen da Gama says the absence of Eric Mathoho and injuries cost his team the chance to beat Iraq as they crashed out of the Olympics football tournament.
Da Gama was without the aerial presence of Bafana Bafana defender Mathoho, while skipper Keagan Dolly and workaholic Abbubaker Mobara were carrying knocks.
Added to that, striker Lebogang Mothiba was also ruled out as SA played to a 1-1 draw which was not enough to get out of Group A, with Brazil beating Denmark 4-0 in the other game.
Da Gama told reporters: “I think from a defensive point of view we missed Mathoho.
“I think he is our strongest player in the air at the back, and you know the Iraqi game is based on the long ball, and aerial balls.
“Injuries always upset the team, we missed Lebo Mothiba upfront, which would have allowed us to play Gift Motupa in the midfield, where he is really creative.
“We wanted to play with two strikers; unfortunately Menzi Masuku was floating all over the place and was not as effective as we wanted him to be.
“We brought on [Thabiso] Kutumela. He had to then play wide because Keagan was struggling, and Mobara. So we had to make the last change, bringing on Tashreeq [Morris] after Keagan went down. Keagan or Mobara, both were really struggling with injuries.”
A dominant Iraq hit the woodwork three times, while Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune made numerous saves at the Corinthians Arena.
Gift Motupa, who netted his side’s only goal at the tournament, says: “We gave it our all, that’s all I can say.”