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25 May 2017 16:14
Italyís Andrea Favilli struggles to hold a ball in the first half of the FIFA U-20 World Cup match against South Africa in Cheonan. (Gallo)
While new Bafana coach Stuart Baxter assembled his first squad, the future of South Africa’s footballing ambitions lay in ruins in faraway Suwon, Korea, after the national U20 side Amajita failed to get out of their group at the Fifa World Cup.
The South African Football Association’s (Safa) Vision 2022 — which aims for top ranking in Africa at all age group levels, and qualifying for Fifa and continental competitions at all levels — is still on track, administrators say, but it has been derailed by the failure of the team to progress beyond the group stages after succumbing to Japan 2-1 in their opening match and then resorting to defensive tactics against an ordinary-looking Italian side to go down 2-0.
Safa president Danny Jordaan was understandably shattered by the elimination of this talented group and expressed his disappointment, in spite of maintaining a degree of confidence in the team.
“This team was groomed from U17 where they did so well at the Afcon and later World Cup in Chile and, in spite of failing to get out of their group, they played without fear and with a lot of confidence,” he said.
“The majority of those U17 boys formed the bulk of the U20 team and the aim was to progress to U23 Olympic squad in three years. The plan is still on track and when you consider that Rivaldo Coetzee can still play for the U23, it is not all gloom and doom,” said the Safa boss.
Yet there is no doubt that the poor showing of the Amajita is considered by the hierarchy as a huge setback for a group of players that was groomed to form the core of the national senior side, which was expected to qualify and compete at the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
Japan looked slightly superior to the South Africans in terms of their tactical positioning, their ability to regroup, patient build-ups, ability to slow down the game and to apply the pressing technique, with their transition from defence to attack in quick movements a marvel to watch.
But Amajita stunned the Junior Blue Samurai when Grant Margeman sprang the offside trap and his shot deflected off a defender and into the net to open their account.
For a too-short time it brought hope to the thousands watching at home that this team would advance further in the competition than the class of 2009.
Somehow, despite their natural flair, the South African boys appeared afraid to use their skills confidently to open up their opponents, nor did they use their pace effectively down the wings and instead seemed preoccupied with defending a 1-0 lead.
They paid the penalty when Japan levelled three minutes after the break and then snatched the winner late into the second half in a display that is best forgotten as Amajita failed to show the world what a bunch of exceptionally talented boys they are.
And the South African technical team seemed to shoot itself in the foot when Teboho Mokoena, the 21-year-old SuperSport anchorman who arrived in Suwon a day after the Japanese disaster, surprisingly watched proceedings from the stands against Italy instead of being thrown into the mix to take charge of the engine room.
“We need to take a serious and hard look at this team and find a way out regarding how we could best offer them motivation, encourage them to retain a positive mindset, pick them up and rebuild their confidence,” said Jordaan.
Although Jordaan is already looking beyond this failed campaign, the final group fixture against Uruguay is at the Incheon Stadium on May 26.
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