Striker Fagrie Lakay has been withdrawn from the South African Men’s Under-20 National Team (Amajita) after failing to recover from a hamstring injury. Head coach Thabo Senong broke the news to the Santos player on Sunday night (23 February) following advice from the medical team. Lakay missed the Commonwealth Cup in Russia due to the same injury, but was called to the assessment and evaluation camp in Port Elizabeth with the hope that he could recover and perhaps be included in the final 21-man squad that will travel to Senegal for the 2015 CAF African Youth Championship that will take place from 8 – 22 March.
The squad departs for the West African country on Wednesday, 25 February. Senong said: ‘We would have loved to travel with Fagrie to Senegal as he has proved to be an integral part of this team. His immense contribution got us to where we are today – who can forget the two crucial goals he scored in Polokwane when we defeated Cameroon in the second leg to qualify for the AYC. Unfortunately he failed to shake off his injury, which will take some time to heal. And if you take into consideration that he hasn’t played football for about a month, once he recovers he will also need to get his fitness levels up to the same as the other players but there is not enough time for that as the tournament is around the corner. We are saddened that he won’t be with us but we know he is a fighter and will bounce back. He could be with us should we qualify for the World Cup. The same goes for all the other players we will leave behind whether because of injury or will not make the cut.’ Senong is expected to name his final squad on Tuesday, 24 February.
Fagrie joins three other players on the injury list who were part of the qualifiers – goalkeeper Jethren Barr (dislocated finger), striker Tshepo Liphoko (big toe on the right foot) and defender Denwin Farmer (left knee injury). SAFA Media spoke to Lakay in Port Elizabeth after he heard the sad news of his withdrawal.
Matlhomola Morake: Sad news indeed Fagrie, how are you feeling?
Fagrie Lakay: I am in indeed very disappointed because AYC is one of the biggest youth tournaments on the continent, and missing it is very sad but sometimes you can’t control everything, only the Almighty knows what’s best. So I must just try to be strong and accept what has happened, go back home and start the healing process on the injury. T here is still a lot coming my way I believe.
MM: Must be even more disappointing because you contributed a lot to this team, with your two goals securing qualification in the last qualifier against Cameroon in Polokwane in September.
FL: Fortunately we are not a one-man team. Most of us worked hard to qualify for the AYC, and it was for the first time for most of us after we failed to qualify for the same tournament during our time in the Under-17 national team. So this one really meant a lot to us but I am happy I played a role in helping the team get to where it is now by scoring and always being a team player. For now I have complete faith in my teammates that they will qualify for the World Cup and hopefully we will meet again.
MM: And surely you wouldn’t want to miss the World Cup?
FL: I believe my teammates will fight all the way to get to the World Cup. With the experience they get at the AYC they will surely want to go a step further to the big stage and I would not want to miss that one. For now, though, the focus is on me to get well.
MM: You missed the tournament in Russia with the same injury, and you were called to this preparation camp in PE, surely you had high hopes of going to Senegal?
FL: Of course yes, the guys have just come back from winning the tournament in Russia and everyone was happy and I wanted to share that joy with them but unfortunately I aggravated the injury. There is that winning mentality in the team now and I was excited to join up with them again because there is a different mindset and you could see that the team is going forward, it is improving. The SA Under-20 is now known for winning trophies and even when some players are not here the team is still winning which means the technical team and the players are doing something right.
MM: Any words of encouragement to your teammates as they travel to Senegal?
FL: We know it is not going to be easy but the players know what is expected of them. As I said, this team is about winning trophies – we won COSAFA CUP, Zone 6 Games and the Commonwealth Cup in Russia – and that is what South Africans just think about. I want to say to my teammates they must go out there and make themselves, their families and the country proud. I wish them all the best and I am confident they can do it.
MM: On a different note, some exciting news from Niger about Under-17 team qualifying for the World Cup.
FL: When we got the news we were all happy for the team because with the Under-20 team going to the AYC it means South African football is changing for the better, and that is a plus for this country. We are finally doing something right as a nation, and also if you look at youngsters like Rivaldo Coetzee playing for Bafana Bafana at 18, that is a great milestone and we should be proud of ourselves.
MM: Does the Under-17 qualification for World Cup put any pressure on the Under-20 to follow suit?
FL: No, I don’t think so. Rather it is motivation for us to do well. We have to say if the Under-17 can do it so can we at Under-20. It’s more of an inspiration for us to go there and show what we are capable of. I believe we can make it too because we have a group of players in the team, very talented and focused.