South Africa lose stars for Olympic qualifying event

By Ed AaronsBBC Sport
Helsingborg's South African midfielder May Mahlangu
Helsingborg's May Mahlangu will miss South Africa's final push for the Olympics

South Africa will have to reach the Olympics without the Swedish League's Player of the Year May Mahlangu.

Despite his club Helsingborgs having completed their season they have refused him permission to play in the qualifying tournament in Morocco.

Shakes Mashaba, the South Africa under-23 coach, is unhappy with the decision.

"I would have loved to have had all the South African players in my squad but unfortunately some have not been released by their clubs," he said.

"May Mahlangu is not the only who cannot be a part of the team but we have got this far with the players that are going to be playing at the tournament.

"We still have a chance of qualifying if we keep confident."

The competition begins on Saturday to determine which African teams make it to London next year.

Mashaba was keen on including Mahlangu after he helped Helsingborgs win their first domestic league and cup double since the 1940s.

Dutch club Ajax refused to release Thulani Serero, as did Orlando Pirates with Andile Jali, while his club-mate Bongani Ndululu had to pull out injured.

The event in Morocco is also doubling as the first ever African Under-23 Championship.

Mahlangu was voted the Swedish League's Player of the Season at a ceremony in Stockholm attended by Uefa president Michel Platini this month.

His displays in Sweden have reportedly brought him to the attention of several other Europe clubs and, despite never having represented his country at any level, he feels the time has come to test himself in a better league.

"There are many interested teams who want to help me and it is my dream to move to a bigger league," he said.

"After winning the award and all the trophies, I feel I have done everything I can here and it is time to set another challenge.

"People always ask me if I'm ready but if I wasn't there was no way I could have been voted the best player in the league. I'm ready to compete."

A product of the Stars of Africa Academy in Johannesburg - an independent soccer school run by Nadim Mahmood and former Kaizer Chiefs assistant coach Farouk Khan - Mahlangu was spotted by Helsingborgs' former coach Bo Nilsson in 2006.

After impressing in trials, he spent two seasons playing for amateur side Hasselholm before being given his opportunity in the first team in 2009.

As a result of Mahlangu's transfer, Helsingborgs also launched a partnership with Stars of Africa and they have produced a string of professionals in the last few years, including Surprise Ralani, who plays in Sweden for Henrik Larsson's Landskrona.

South Africa squad for the Olympic qualifying tournament in Morocco:

Goalkeepers: Brilliant Khuzwayo (Thanda Royal Zulu), Sage Lottering (Moroka Swallows), Brighton Mhlongo (Orlando Pirates)

Defenders: Thulani Hlatshwayo (Ajax Cape Town), Sibusiso Mxoyana (Orlando Pirates), Siyabonga Zulu (Blackburn Rovers in South Africa), Eric Mathoho (Bloemfontein Celtic), Gladwin Shitolo (Jomo Cosmos), Mxolisi Mayongo (AmaZulu)

Midfielders: Sameegh Doutie (Orlando Pirates), Mandla Masango (Kaizer Chiefs), Thami Sangweni (AmaZulu), Christopher Flandrop (University of Pretoria), Jabulani Shongwe (Mamelodi Sundowns), Sibusiso Khumalo (Mamelodi Sundowns), Bhongolwethu Jayiya (Bidvest Wits), Khulekani Madondo (Maritzburg United)

Strikers: Rodney Ramagalela (Black Leopards), Phumelelo Bhengu (Mpumalanga Black Aces), Ryan Eugene (Santos)

NB: Thandani Ntshumayelo of SuperSport United is still awaiting medical results

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