6 June 2012
While Bafana Bafana struggled against lower-ranked Ethiopia, South Africa’s under-20 football team held their own against the world’s best in an eight-nation tournament which ended in Cape Town on the weekend.
“Amajita” finished third after a string of impressive results against very strong opposition, including some of the game’s traditional powerhouses, who have won 11 under-20 World Cup titles between them.
After they had clinched third place with a win over Japan, coach Solly Luvhengo told a press conference: “When you work so hard, you always deserve to get something from your hard work. You saw us celebrating on the pitch. But we were not celebrating third position, we were celebrating the results of hard work.”
Penalty shootout loss
The home team had missed out on the final in a penalty shootout against eventual champions Brazil. “I felt we deserved to have been in the final,” Luvhengo said.
“It was disappointing not to, but I told the players ahead of the play-off against Japan – go and reward yourselves for your hard work [by picking up a medal].
“Sometimes you work hard and you don’t get anything. But I’ll take the bronze medal and build from that.”
Assessing the overall performance of his charges, Luvhengo said: “I’m very happy with the work ethic. I’m very happy with the team spirit. I’m very happy with the chances we are creating.
“I’m not happy with the finishing, we must work on that,” he added. “Maybe at some moments we switch off a little bit. That’s expected at youth level, but as a coach you need to keep your players on their toes and keep reminding them.
“If we get more time together, these actions will start synchronising themselves and we will get much, much better.”
Amajita were certainly one of the most entertaining teams, if not the most entertaining team, in the tournament. Their passing and speed on attack were hallmarks of the side.
Taking lessons from each match, they showed progress from game to game as they ironed out chinks in their defence and found a cutting edge on attack.
Top goal scorer
Striker Thabani Mthembu scored five times in five matches to lift the Top Goal-Scorer award, while midfielder Snethemba Ngidi was one of three nominees for Player of the Tournament, which ultimately went to Brazil’s Misael Bueno.
Argentina, the winner of five of those World Cups, offered a very difficult challenge to South Africa in the host’s first game. The South Americans recorded a 3-1 win, but their coach Marcelo Trobbiani admitted the score-line had flattered his charges.
South Africa gave as good as they got in a back-and-forth clash, but Argentina finished better to take the victory. Thabani Mthembu, on as a substitute, netted the home team’s goal.
Ghana, the winner of the World Cup in 2009, were South Africa’s next opponents.
Playing an exciting brand of football once again, Amajita recorded an impressive 2-0 victory over a team that had opened their account with a superb 3-2 win over traditional continental powerhouse Nigeria.
Amajita dominated the first half and were rewarded with a two-goal lead. Thembu headed in his second goal of the tournament and Junior Sibande scored after a goalmouth scramble. Although there were no further goals, South Africa continued to impress in the second stanza.
In their third game, coach Solly Luvhengo’s charges took on Nigeria, a country that South Africa has traditionally struggled against at all levels of the game.
South Africa dictated play for most of the contest, but after missing a number of opportunities had to wait until five minutes from time to score the decisive goal. Jerry Mxabo struck the winner, volleying a cross into the back of the Nigerian net to ensure a South African victory and a place in the semi-finals.
Amajita faced a daunting challenge in the semi-finals, taking on five-time under-20 World Cup champions Brazil. However, the hosts were far from intimidated and produced an excellent performance.
South Africa took the game to the Brazilians and forced them onto the defensive. The South Americans, though, scored against the run of play to take the lead.
Mthembu levelled for South Africa only four minutes after the hosts had conceded, but 10 minutes later a defensive error gifted Brazil a second goal.
Amajita pushed hard for an equaliser and after some narrow misses were rewarded eight minutes from time when Mthembu headed in a cross from Junior Sibande.
The home team put Brazil under heavy pressure as they sought a winner, but the match went into extra time. South Africa had the better of the chances in extra time, but the game was left to be settled by penalties. Unfortunately for South Africa, they went down four-three from the spot.
Third place playoff
Brazil and Argentina were left to contest an all-South American final after the Argentina edged Japan 1-0, leaving Amajita to tackle the Japanese in the playoff for third and fourth places.
With bronze medals up for grabs, Maselaelo Seango put South Africa ahead in the 23rd minute, but Japan scored a goal against the run of play 20 minutes from time to make the final score in the playoff match one-all.
The game went straight to penalties and after a tense shootout the hosts emerged victors by seven goals to six.
Brazil went on to lift the title, defeating Argentina 2-0 in the final after extra time.
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