South Africa joined Egypt and Ivory Coast in qualifying for Tokyo 2020 after defeating Ghana in the third-place play-off.
South Africa prevailed 6-5 on penalties following a 2-2 draw after normal time.
It is the third time the country has qualified for the Olympic men’s football tournament, having also competed at Sydney 2000 and Rio 2016.
Ghana’s Habib Mohammed wrongly turned the ball into his own net on the quarter-hour mark to give South Africa an early lead.
Evans Mensah restored parity five minutes after half-time, receiving the ball outside the penalty area and sending a curling shot to beat goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto.
But South Africa restored their lead just after the hour mark thanks to a smart finish from Kamohelo Mahlatsi, who had only been on the pitch for two minutes when he received a pass from Lyle Foster to slot home.
Just when it looked all set for a South Africa win, Ghana scored a late equaliser.
Mensah rounded his marker and sent a cross that fell to substitute Samuel Obeng, who made no mistake to score and level the match again five minutes from time.
The game was sent directly to a penalty shootout to determine the winner.
The shootout saw both sides miss twice, before Mpoto saved Emmanuel Cudjoe’s effort to send his side to Tokyo 2020.
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Ghana once again lost a penalty shoot out after twice coming from behind to force a 2-2 draw with South Africa in the third-place play off at the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations.
The dramatic win for South Africa means they have qualified for the men’s football tournament at the Olympics in Tokyo next year along with the under-23 finalists Ivory Coast and hosts Egypt.
Goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto was the hero with two saves in the penalty shoot-out as he played his first game of the tournament replacing Ajax Cape Town’s Darren Johnson.
Johnson had played in the four previous games at the tournament but was dropped after the 3-0 loss to hosts Egypt in the semi-finals.
The Black Meteors also lost their semi-final on penalties to Ivory Coast.
Ghana began the match well and dominated the possession but were unable to really create any clear chances and keeper Mpoto was not tested.
The first-half changed on 14 minutes when South Africa took the lead with what looked like an own goal from Habib Mohammed.
Kegan Johannes launched a ball forward that Luther Singh chested down and looked to have taken the ball too far but he managed to cut the ball across and it deflected off Mohammed’s heel into the net.
South Africa then dominated the next thirty minutes and had several chances that were either deflected wide or saved by Kwame Baah in the Ghana goal.
The referee waved away a penalty appeal on 38 minutes and a minute later Lyle Foster, who had been ready to score from Singh’s cross if it had not hit Mohammed, saw his header hit the bar and go behind for a goal kick.
Ghana equalised in spectacular style as Finland-based Evans Mensah fired in an effort from 25 metres out and directly in front of goal that served its way past Mpoto.
South Africa restored their lead just after the hour mark thanks to a smart finish from Kamohelo Abel Mahlatsi, who had only been on the pitch for two minutes.
Once again the ball was swung in by Johannes and Mahlatsi flicked a heel at it and the ball hit Foster and rebounded back to the substitute who put the ball inside the near post from seven metres.
Mensah was key to Ghana’s 84th minute equaliser as he twisted and turned to leave Katlego Mohamme totally lost as he made his way to the byline and cross the ball into the area for Real Oveido’s Samuel Obeng to score.
Ghana lose another shoot-out
The shoot out began badly for South Africa as captain Tercious Malepe put the ball over the bar before Emmanuel Lomotey, Mensah and Issah Abbas all scored for Ghana.
Grant Margeman, Thendo Mukumela and Singh all converted to keep South Africa in touch Mpoto then saved from Kingsley Fobi to level things up.
Athenkosi Dlala for South Africa and then Samuel Obeng for Ghana took the game to sudden death.
Mohamme’s effort was well saved by Baah’s feet and gave Edward Sarpong the chance to win it for Ghana but he blazed the ball well over the bar.
South Africa’s Kobamelo Kodisang and Ghana’s Zakaria Fuseini then swapped penalties.
Foster scored the 8th penalty for South Africa leaving Emmanuel Cudjoe to keep the shoot out going but Mpoto made the save to send his team to Tokyo.
South Africa also won a third-place play-off four years ago as they beat Senegal on penalties to earn a place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.