South Africa arrived in Egypt on Tuesday for the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations, which begins on Friday, with just 12 players
They are due to open their campaign, of what is also the qualifiers for the men's Olympic football tournament ,against Zambia on Saturday with just 15 players available.
South Africa's top clubs refused to release their players before Monday, when the Fifa window for international matches begins.
The South African Football Association (Safa) fail in its bid to get the clubs to release players early.
However instead of finding replacements Safa has taken a gamble in naming players from Cape Town City, Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United in their 21-man squad for the tournament, knowing that they would not be freed up for the weekend.
Chiefs and Pirates meet in the Soweto derby at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Saturday and SuperSport United are playing Bidvest Wits in another key Premier Soccer League match on Friday night.
Cape Town City had first said they would release defender Keanu Cupido but then changed their minds, in another blow to coach David Notoane
The PSL did postpone second division matches for the weekend to allow Notoane to have at least 12 players with him on the plane when the squad left Johannesburg on Monday.
A 13th will arrive some 24 hours behind the rest in a stroke of good fortune for Notoane after captain Tercious Malepe was sent off on Sunday playing for his top-flight club Chippa United, which brings with it an automatic two match ban and so he misses out for his club this weekend, and has been released to travel to Egypt.
Notoane is hopeful that Portuguese club Chaves will allow Luther Singh and Belgian club Cercle Brugge will release Lyle Foster to join up with the squad this week.
South Africa will only have their full complement just before their second group game next Tuesday against Ivory Coast.
But even then, some players will have travelled at breakneck speed to get to Egypt and will likely not be in the best physical condition.
The last group game for South Africa is against Nigeria next Friday, November 15.
The top three finishers at the Under-23 Nations Cup will represent Africa at the Tokyo Olympic Games next year.