On Sunday, 22 February, the South African Men’s National Under-17 team, Amajimbos went into history books by qualifying for the FIFA World Cup scheduled for Chile in October this year after overcoming Cameroon 3-1 in Niger. The achievement completed an amazing journey in youthful coach Molefi Ntseki’s coaching career. On Monday, 23 February, Ntseki took some time out to speak to SAFA Media Officer, Namhla Mphelo on this momentous achievement by his team at the CAF Under-17 CAN.
Q: Coach, take us through this incredible accomplishment which has seen the Under-17 team make history?
MN: First and foremost, I really want to thank the Almighty for helping me achieve this fantastic milestone. As a country, this is incredible news, we are very happy about this. I would like to thank the South African Football Association, the President, CEO, Head of delegation, the technical team and not forgetting our team manager for ensuring that our preparations and stay in Niger have been pleasant.
Q: Is this the ultimate? Does this result rank among your best achievements to date?
MN: It has been a very long journey that we started in June 2014, and in all our preparations we were preparing the team to qualify for Niger and we managed to accomplish that but our ultimate goal was to qualify for the World Cup in Chile. We even had a slogan coming into this tournament “Road to Chile”, because coming to Niger, our main focus was to qualify for Chile. Yes, this has been one of my greatest achievements to date as a coach.
Q: Some say winning the CAF Under-17 CAN would be a bonus, the primary objective was to qualify for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, do you agree?
MN: No, I don’t agree. I don’t think this whole journey was only about qualifying for Chile; we need to continue doing well and winning the tournament itself would be wonderful. We want to be thorough in whatever we do going forward. Our preparations going into the qualifiers went very well, the team did very well and we don’t want to take the foot off the pedal. When we started this journey, our slogan was the Road to Niger, and after that, our next phase was going to take us to the World Cup, which we have now also achieved. I personally think winning the tournament would be an icing on the cake. It won’t be easy though.
Q: Do you think COSAFA nations and South Africa in particular are closing the gap on those from West Africa and at times North African countries?
MN: I do believe that in terms of our football development, this is long overdue. As a country, we have to be in line with the rest of Africa and the world. The immediate goal is for South Africa to achieve great things. With self belief, hard word and commitment from our coaches and players, this country can go places.
Q: This has been a team effort all round, but which players have been key to this team?
MN: All the players who started with this project from the qualifiers, those that came to Niger and those going to the World Cup are great players. Almost all players have really impressed; different players were outstanding in different matches. Without singling out individuals, one way or the other, most stood out for me, they all raised their hands to be counted. The objective now is our Vision 2022 and these are the players to fulfill that mandate.