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SA among continent’s best at U-20 level‚ says Senong

09 February 2019 - 11:33 By Nick Said
Amajita head coach Thabo Senong.
Amajita head coach Thabo Senong.

Coach Thabo Senong says South Africa’s back-to-back qualifications for the Fifa Under-20 World Cup shows plenty of promise for the future of Bafana Bafana and that at in this age-group at least‚ the country is among the top teams on the continent.

Amajita reached the semifinals of the Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations on Friday with a 1-0 victory over Burundi that saw them finish second in a tricky Group A that also included hosts Niger and perennial powerhouse Nigeria.

They will now face Senegal in the next stage on Wednesday‚ but before then can celebrate reaching the World Cup in Poland in May.

It is the fourth time the country has qualified for the global showpiece and a second in succession after they played in South Korea in 2017.

“This is a second World Cup in a row and third Afcon in a row‚ which shows that we want to be among the best young teams around the continent‚” Senong said.

What made the feat more impressive is what Amajita had a relatively young squad at this tournament‚ with two 18-year-olds‚ goal-scorer Luke le Roux and James Monyane‚ starting against Burundi.

Added to that‚ Senong is also missing a number of his first-choice players who were not released by their clubs for the tournament‚ including Monaco B star Lyle Foster.

“We can celebrate but then it is back to analysis and preparation for Senegal‚” Senong said.

“We know it is a tough assignment for us‚ but we have a good gameplan and we know what we are trying to do.

“Senegal are one of the best Under-20 teams on the continent. You have to work very hard – they are also a team of hardworking players; fast and attacking players on transitions‚ so we will have to be very organised.

“We are tactically flexible‚ we can be disciplined if we want‚ can go all out attack if we want to.

“Everybody thought we would lose to Niger and Nigeria‚ but we were very disciplined. We will need the same discipline against Senegal. Then we will have a good chance.”

Senong said he has seen an improvement in the side over the last few years‚ despite the blooding of new talent for this tournament.

“In the 2017 Afcon we conceded five goals in the group games‚ now we have conceded only one.

“We had a lot of players who did not have caps‚ we were giving new caps in the first and second games‚ but now I think their nerves have gone.

“They are improving. We have very young players – 17 and 18-year-olds – and they are still gaining experience‚ so it is normal for them to make mistakes.

“I believe they will be better in the knockout stage.”

Amajita’s best finish in their continental finals is runner-up after they lost the 1997 final 1-0 to hosts Morocco.