The South African Men’s Under-20 National Team is in Port Elizabeth to continue preparations for the upcoming 19th Edition of the African U-20 Championship, which will take place in Senegal from 8-22 March 2015. Amajita have been drawn in Group B of the tournament against Ghana, Mali and Zambia. Group A has hosts Senegal, Nigeria, Congo and Cote d’Ivoire.
The South Africans started camp on Sunday, 15 February and are holding their training sessions at the Gelvendale Stadium. They will round off their preparations with a practice match against the U-19 side of local PSL side Chippa United. The match takes place on Sunday, 21 February at the Isaac Wolfson Stadium. Kick-off is at 15:00 and entry is free.
SAFA Media sat down with head coach of Amajita, Thabo Senong in Port Elizabeth to get his thoughts on the preparations.
Matlhomola Morake: What is the purpose of this camp?
Thabo Senong: The purpose is to prepare the team for the upcoming championship in Senegal. We also will be playing a farewell match on Sunday. We are looking at selecting the best 21 players that will represent South Africa. We will be also preparing the team physical to make sure we have a solid team when the tournament starts.
MM: How difficult is it to select the final 21 for the tournament?
TS: it is always very difficult. If you look at the current Amajita side we have a big pool of players to source from, but it’s about getting the right balance, players that are on form and getting the players that have the mental skills to go and make the country proud in Senegal. It is also unfortunate that we are controlled by numbers and not everybody will make it but we promise we will get the best squad that will represent us very well at the tournament.
MM: You must have the core of the team already, especially in the light of the bulk of the players here recently won a tournament in Russia?
TS: Of course the core of the team is here, but we are disappointed that we don’t have the likes of defender Denwin Farmer who has been ruled from the tournament due to a knee injury. Also not available is striker Tshepo Liphoko because of an injury on his big toe as well as goalkeeper Jethren Barr who dislocated his left finger. In camp we have players that are recovering from injury like Fagrie Lakay (hamstring) and Khumbulani Mkhize (groin) but we are hoping they will be fine. Most of the players that did duty in Russia are still in the team and we have brought back some of those who were with us during the qualifiers and some who were with us at the COSAFA Cup in Lesotho – so we have a fairly good squad, a very competitive side with good potential and we believe we will select a quality side to take to Senegal.
MM: You have worked with this team before and during the qualifiers but you were not available for the Russia tour due to Bafana Bafana commitments – how important is it for you as the head coach to be here leading to the tournament?
TS: Obviously I have been an assistant coach in the national team for the past two years and when David Notoane was the interim coach (in Russia) we always communicated about the players, preparations and I am happy that he did a great job, hence I requested that he be part of the technical team. Now we are working together to prepare a strong team to take us to Senegal.
MM: What are you hoping to get out of the friendly with Chippa United?
TS: Going into a tournament we know that to win games you have to score goals, so we would like our players to get into the gear of scoring one or two goals as early as possible and make sure that we remain organised and don’t concede goals and we keep possession more than the opponents. We also have to make sure that we defend our set pieces very well.
MM: How is the programme looking after the Sunday match?
TS: We return back to Johannesburg, have a training session at the Nike Football Centre in Soweto on an artificial turf because our first two matches are on such a surface. We intend to depart for Senegal either on the 27th or 28th for final preparations and we might play some friendly matches there.
MM: What’s your take on the U-17 squad playing to a 2-all draw against Cote d’Ivoire in the AYC in Niger?
TS: We are very proud of that team for getting a draw in their first match against the defending champions. F irst games are never easy, in fact they are very tough and you always want to collect three points or even one point, we believe they will do well against Mali and Cameroon because if they collect the five points that are needed then our boys will qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Chile. We wish them all the best.
MM: Does the result inspire Amajita that they can do the same or even better in their opening match?
TS: Yes of course, we all believe in order to well you need to win the first games. Yes we are playing against African giants Ghana but if we are physically and mentally prepared and tactically organised, we have a chance of winning the first match which is very important.
SA U-20 CAF AYC Fixtures:
Monday, 9 March 15 vs Ghana
Stade Caroline Faye, Mbour
16:30 (18:30 SA Time)
Thursday, 12 March 15 vs Mali
Stade Caroline Faye, Mbour
16:30 (18:30 SA time)
Sunday, 15 March 15 vs Zambia
17:00 (19:00 SA time)