As Amajita prepare to take on Finland in the Commonwealth Cup final tomorrow in St Petersburg, Russia, coach David Notoane took time out to reflect on the journey that has seen the Under-20s defy the odds. He says winning gold would be the cherry on top though the team has already surpassed expectations.
He spoke to SAFA.net in this interview.
Q: Great run in the Commonwealth Cup; what do you ascribe this to?
A: A lot of aspects – teamwork and planning have been key. We have had common goals and objectives coming here and it was important to drive our purpose. Booking a ticket to Senegal was motivation enough for players and they responded well. For technical team,winning the confidence of the players in the absence of coach Thabo Senong was key to make them realise that the process towards CAF African Youth tournament has started and will continue when coach Thabo joins later.
Q: There have been some really outstanding individual performances, who do you rate most here?
A: I don’t like to focus on the individuals because the collective effort of the team got us where we are … we made seven changes in the second game and won convincingly with some key players rested in a game we needed to win at all costs. The consistency of players like Dumisani Msibi, Motjeka Madisha, Tlotlo Leepile and Pule Maraisane has been heart-warming; they showed signs of maturity as the tournament progressed.
Q: Reaching a Cup final in Europe, this is a first for South Africa, is this an ideal building block for AYC?
A: Wow, I never took notice of that…it is indeed humbling that we have broken the duck. We feel blessed to have achieved that feat and it will remain entrenched in our minds. Of course it is ideal preparation for AYC, we draw inspiration and belief from this experience that we can transfer this achievement to the continental stage.
Q: What has been the secret to Amajita resilience?
A: Teamwork and tactical adaptation of the team to overcome the challenges each game brings. The spirit and will of this group came through in the semis … that is the mental toughness and character we were hoping to take out of this tournament.
Q: On a personal note, this has been a fulfilling experience. Share some of this with us.
A: Indeed very fulfilling and I thank my staff, coaches Thabo Senong and Shakes Mashaba for the confidence they showed in me, SAFA leadership and technical committee for this massive task and responsibility. I can only grow from this experience after a tough second half of 2014 on a personal note. I thank God for the guidance to pull me back on the right path because in coaching it is easy to be swayed in directions not chartered for you.
Q: The boys seem to relish being on the back foot. They bring the best when challenged. Agree?
A: Yes and No … In football I believe you have to show faith in the way you want to play, the style and philosophy, you can adapt to match demands without changing the style of play and philosophy. We were able to rise above stubborn defences, very physical teams, using our technical ability and speed with the ball. We have to work harder at our finishing, scoring chances created when in the dominant phases of the game. One goal scored against can trigger tactical disruptions though it shouldn’t really.
Q: Lastly, how has been the experience in Russia?
A: Very good for the group … the bond amongst the players grew stronger, we achieved tactical understanding and cohesion based on the formation we want to play. We got exposed to different cultures of football and we draw important lessons to determine our football positioning globally in this age group … this experience will help us in the future in terms of SAFA Vision 2022.
Q: Message to supporters back home?
A: We are happy to have hoisted the SA flag high at a time when people want to give up hope for the senior team, Bafana. We have to finish the job we came here for tomorrow in the final. Let us remain positive and support our national teams even in the face of adversity. Sometimes the road to the top is a thorny one…we will endeavor to bring gold back to South Africa by the grace of God. Thank you for your support!