Amajita kick off quest for Afcon glory
South Africa will begin their quest to reach the Fifa Under-20 World Cup when they open their African Under-20 Championships Group A campaign against hosts Niger in Niamey on Saturday.
Amajita must finish in the top two in a pool that also includes old foes Nigeria and Burundi‚ so getting their tournament off to a positive start against a side making their debut at this level – who qualified as hosts – is vitally important.
Coach Thabo Senong is without talisman forward Lyle Foster‚ who was not released for the competition by his new French Ligue 1 side Monaco‚ but otherwise has the bulk of the squad that won the Cosafa Under-20 Championships in December‚ with some interesting additions.
Not least Leicester City midfielder Khanya Leshabela‚ Portugal-based Kobamelo Kodisang and classy SuperSport United teenager Luke Le Roux.
The team did not have the best preparation for their opener this week after Ghana pulled out of a proposed friendly‚ which led to Amajita playing against local Niger outfit Police FC‚ a game they won 3-0.
“It’s a bit risky to play the first game of a tournament without an international friendly‚ but the training still looks good – we just hope the team can improve in a few aspects‚” Senong said.
“We can still do better because sometimes we defend a little bit deep. We need to defend in the right areas‚ especially the midfield third. But we are working on this.
“I have no doubt that when we play the first match they [the players] will understand how to approach the game.”
Senong led the side to fourth in Zambia two years ago‚ which was enough to qualify for the World Cup. While a gold medal in Niger remains the aim‚ first and foremost the team will be keen to secure a spot in the World Cup in Poland in May.
“We all have positives vibes‚ the training sessions have been good‚ it’s been a great preparation‚” Kaizer Chiefs forward Thabiso Monyane said.
“It’s really important [to qualify for the World Cup]‚ but as a footballer you just have to do the things you have been taught to bring out your individual brilliance.
“Playing at a World Cup is a dream for every young man‚ with scouts coming from all over the world.”
Monyane is likely to lead the line in the absence of his great friend Foster. He said he wants to make up for a lack of game time at the continental finals with the Under-17s.
“The Afcon is a big step. I was here in 2015 with the Under-17s but I never got the chance to play. Now I feel like I am older and wiser to execute everything that coaches have taught me over the years‚” he said.
The match against Niger kicks off at 5.30pm South African time. It is followed by games against Nigeria (Tuesday) and Burundi (Friday).