Absa Premiership

Amajimbos in at the deep end

Amajimbos captain Nelson Maluleke. 
Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/Backpagepix
Amajimbos captain Nelson Maluleke. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/Backpagepix

If there is one aspect South African Under-17 coach Molefi Ntseki got right with Amajimbos, it was to instil a sense of self-belief in his players. 

This carried the team to the African Youth Championship runners-up spot in Niger early this year, granting them a golden ticket to Chile. 

Throughout their qualifying journey, which started in Tanzania in June last year, Amajimbos gave opponents little respect with their quick-passing game. 

This led to the elimination of defending Under-17 world champions Nigeria in the semifinals of the continental youth showdown. 

But an acid test awaits Amajimbos in Chile, especially while the team is still trying to gel since its Niger sojourn. 

South Africa are in Group E against Costa Rica, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Russia. 

All three opponents are former champions of their respective confederations. 

Ntseki and his 21-member squad spent the past week at a training camp in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

They lost 3-0 to their Brazilian counterparts last Sunday, seven days after a 1-0 defeat to Chile in Cape Town. 

Amajimbos will face Chile for the third time ­tomorrow following a goalless draw midweek. 

Then the South Africans will meet New Zealand on Wednesday in the team’s final warm-up match before Amajimbos begin their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica next Monday. 

Ntseki left these shores with a team that was without players from powerhouse youth development hubs Ajax Cape Town and Orlando Pirates. 

He opted to stick with 96% of the team that reached the final at the Niger championships in March. 

Ntseki has tried different combinations over the past two weeks. In Chile, he is likely to go with his tried-and-tested spine that is dominated by SuperSport United academy boys. 

United boasts six players in the World Cup squad, led by captain Nelson Maluleke, goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto, defenders Katlego Mohamme and Athenkosi Dlala, and striker Khanyisa Mayo, son of former Chiefs and Bafana marksman Patrick Mayo. 

Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits have three players each, while the rest have been picked from nine other academies. 

Ntseki’s final formation in Chile is likely to have Mpoto in goal – that is if the goalminder shrugs off a shoulder injury – Mohamme in central defence, “Xavi” Maluleke in midfield and talismanic striker Mayo upfront. 

The top two nations from each group will progress to the last 16, along with the four best-performing teams in third. 

If South Africa win Group E, Amajimbos will meet the team that finishes second among Belgium, Mali, Honduras or Ecuador in Group D. 

A runners-up position in the group will set Ntseki’s side against the winners from Group F, which features France, Paraguay, New Zealand and Syria. 

Progressing further at the 24-nation tournament will bode well for Safa’s Vision 2022 programme, as some of the players in the current Amajimbos team have been called up to Bafana Bafana ­before. 

The Chile global championships will also lay the platform for Maluleke and his team-mates to emulate Brazil’s Neymar, Memphis Depay (Netherlands), James Rodríguez (Colombia), Mario Götze (Germany) and Raheem Sterling (England). 

These stars came through the ranks at junior world cups and are today some of the biggest names in world football.