MX23RW : Wednesday, September 22 09:26:45| >> :600:4989123:4989123:
Jul 25, 2021 at 9am UK at Saitama Stadium 2002
France U23sFrance Under-23s
South Africa U23sSouth Africa Under-23s
Gignac (57', 78', 86' pen.), Savanier (90+2')
Nkounkou (20'), Savanier (68')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Kodisang (53'), Makgopa (72'), Mokoena (81')
Mokoena (16'), Williams (84')

Preview: France Under-23s vs. South Africa Under-23s - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Olympic Games Men's Football clash between France Under-23s and South Africa Under-23s, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Both sides desperately need the points on Sunday, as France Under-23s meet South Africa Under-23s in Group A of the Olympic football competition, in Saitama.

Neither coach has a full-strength squad to work with, as the South Africans have been hit by a virus outbreak which forced the team to isolate before their opening defeat to Japan, while Les Bleus are at best a third-string selection of unproven hopefuls and declining veterans.

Match preview

Sebastian Cordova of Mexico celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates as Paul Bernardoni of France looks dejected on July 22, 2021© Reuters

Pessimism surrounding France's hopes of reaching the latter stages of this delayed Tokyo 2020 tournament was already widespread, but their collapse in the second half of Thursday's 4-1 defeat to Mexico laid bare the challenge ahead for a hastily assembled squad.

CONCACAF qualifying winners Mexico took the lead less than two minutes after the break at the Tokyo Stadium, before doubling their advantage in the 55th minute, and though 35-year-old captain Andre-Pierre Gignac - whose last game for the French national team was the Euro 2016 final loss to Portugal - pulled a goal back from the spot, El Tri later added two more for the London 2012 champions.

Sylvain Ripoll's team now face a tough task to progress from Group A - with a top-two finish required to make the quarter-finals - so will see victory over crisis-hit South Africa as an absolute must on Sunday.

While France's gifted young generation has been largely left back at home - as some were on duty at Euro 2020 and others have been summarily withdrawn by their club sides - the former Lorient coach has been forced to draw from Ligue 1's more modest sides for personnel.

As a result, though veteran striker Gignac and his new teammate at Mexico's Tigres UNAL, Florian Thauvin, have been called in as overage players, the squad is undoubtedly not a true reflection of the abundant talent available to the reigning world champions.

Ripoll, who could not lead Les Bleuets to the final of either the 2019 or 2021 European Under-21 Championships, now has it all to do if his men are to achieve the sort of success which has been more elusive to the national team at the Olympics than in other major tournaments.

In fact, the only gold medal in France's long and illustrious history came at the 1984 event and they last qualified in 1996 - perhaps demonstrating their football administrators' lack of love for the global Games.

South Africa coach David Notoane before the match on July 22, 2021© Reuters

While the French team's start to their campaign was far from ideal, Sunday's opponents South Africa endured a nightmarish introduction to this highly unusual edition of the Olympics.

Bizarrely, head coach David Notoane complained that he had seen people running away from members of his team, after they emerged from an enforced period of isolation following positive COVID-19 tests for two players and a video analyst last weekend.

With the vast majority of his playing staff quarantining in the build-up to their tournament opener against hosts Japan, perhaps South Africa were fortunate to eventually lose only 1-0, as a result of a Takefusa Kubo's second-half goal. Indeed, despite their lack of preparation time, Notoane's young squad held out resolutely until the Real Madrid winger fizzed a shot just inside the far post in the 71st minute.

Despite the defeat, after missing two training sessions with players confined to their rooms, the former Under-20 national team boss praised his players for their efforts against the odds.

Having qualified through the Africa Under-23s Cup of Nations nearly two years ago - where they were defeated in the semi-finals; still enough to earn one of the continent's four available spots - South Africa's only other result of the calendar year so far saw them fall to a 3-0 friendly defeat against Egypt Under-23s last month.

Now they simply must avoid a third straight defeat to have any chance of springing a surprise and meeting Mexico in their final group game still with hope of making the last eight.

France Under-23s Olympic Games Men's Football form:
  • L

France Under-23s form (all competitions):
  • W
  • L

South Africa Under-23s Olympic Games Men's Football form:
  • L

South Africa Under-23s form (all competitions):
  • W
  • D
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • L

Team News

France coach Sylvain Ripoll before the match on July 22, 2021© Reuters

France have already had to re-organise their plans, as players including Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, Arsenal's William Saliba and Malang Sarr of Chelsea were initially included in the squad, but then omitted when their respective clubs objected.

On Thursday, Sylvain Ripoll selected a four-man defence, with versatile Milan defender Pierre Kalulu joining Modibo Sagnan in the centre, and that pair is set to continue despite the side conceding four times to Mexico.

Alexis Beka Beka was introduced on the hour mark last time out so could potentially force his way into the lineup, while senior internationals Andre-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin are again tasked with carrying the attack.

South Africa's concerns, meanwhile, have eased after there were fears that their opening match would not be able to go ahead when they appeared unable to register the required minimum 13 players, as most of the squad went into isolation. However, with six substitutes eventually cleared to populate the bench, they managed to fulfill the fixture.

Head coach David Notoane has, though, bemoaned the quality of his team being somewhat diluted and they are once more expected to be without Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi following their positive COVID-19 tests last week.

Notoane opted to name only one over-age player in his squad, with SuperSport United goalkeeper Ronwen Williams providing the last line of defence behind a youthful three-man back line. Up front, Braga's Luther Singh provides the chief attacking threat.

France Under-23s possible starting lineup:
Bernardoni; Michelin, Sagnan, Kalulu, Caci; Toussart, Savanier, Le Fee; Nordin, Gignac, Thauvin

South Africa Under-23s possible starting lineup:
Williams; Malepe, Mukumela, Fleurs; Frosler, Goodman, Mokoena, Cele, Mabiliso; Singh; Makgopa

SM words green background

We say: France Under-23s 1-1 South Africa Under-23s

If not a must-win (though many would argue that it is) then Sunday's game is certainly a no-lose encounter for both teams.

Fourth-string France are not certain to take advantage of disruption in the South Africa camp - a factor which may even serve to unite the Group A outsiders - because they are far from the finished article themselves. A score draw is therefore on the cards; a result which may not ultimately be enough for either side to progress.

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