Amajita minus Xulu for key Lesotho clash
South African national Under-20 coach Khabo Zondo failed in his attempt to lure Mamelodi Sundowns' star central defender Siyanda Xulu for their make-or-break second leg African Youth Championship tie against Lesotho at the Setsoto Stadium in Maseru on Sunday, but has been able to secure the services of three Kaizer Chiefs players instead.
Xulu, although only 18 years old, has already been invited by the senior national team selectors following a stupendous debut season in the heart of the Sundowns defence, but failed to make the cut for the squad that represented the country at the recently ended Fifa World Cup.
However, following South Africa’s 2-0 loss at home to Lesotho in the first leg match, coach Zondo dispatched an urgent application to both Sundowns and mother body Safa, requesting the help of the cool-headed Xulu. By Wednesday he had still not been successful in his attempt.
“Look, sometimes you win some and lose some,” was the philosophical way in which Zondo looked at the situation. “We have been unable to secure Xulu for this clash, but the good news is that we have managed to secure the services of two Kaizer Chiefs players and a sensational Wits University goalkeeper.”
The Kaizer Chiefs players that have been roped into the squad are defender Lucky Baloyi and free scoring winger Tshegofatso Ramabu, who was a revelation during the Gauteng Future Champions Under-17 international tournament that featured teams from Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, China, Brazil and Norway.
In addition, Zondo has called up Ronnie Mohlaka, a clever and tough defender from the Jazzy Queen Academy known as Inter Africa and Wits University’s goalkeeper Noah Cohen. The coach sported a smile as wide as the Jukskei river as he took his charges through their paces.
“If Lesotho could score a double here at home,” reasoned Zondo, “what really stops us from achieving the same results? We will not undermine them but there is a lot at stake here and, win or lose, we are going down there to fight as if our very lives depended on the outcome.”
Although loath to reveal their strategy, it appears as if they are going to adopt an all-out attacking plan, with perhaps three strikers, in the hope of getting an early goal while hoping that Lesotho will be under pressure from their home supporters.
They played two friendly matches as Zondo tried to implement his planned attacking strategy and they were rewarded with a 9-0 victory over Soweto side Gunners. In their second match, they were really stretched to the limit by a Bidvest Wits Development side that gave as much as they received in a high scoring game that ended with Amajita winning 7-4.
“It’s not going to be an easy ride,” said Zondo. “Sometimes there comes a time in one’s life that you forget everything else and concentrate on what really matters. For us, what really matters is victory on Sunday and nothing else.”
The South African national Under-17 squad will play against their Lesotho counterparts in a friendly international curtain raiser at the same venue, also on Sunday.
“The good thing about our football now is that the Under-17 team has a sponsor and this could help them in their preparations and eventual development,” said Zondo. “We at Under-20 are working under a tight budget but the federation has been really helpful.
“I think if we work together towards a common goal, support each other and get it right and pull in the same direction, we should be able to achieve a lot with these youngsters. Whether we succeed or fail in our campaign, we should give a good account of ourselves.”
Goalkeepers: Sherwin Neicker (SuperSport United); Bongani Marosha (Mamelodi Sundowns) and Noah Cohen (Bidvest Wits University)
Defenders: Ronnie Mohlaka (Inter Africa); Lucky Baloyi (Kaizer Chiefs); Ayanda Ndlovu (Maritzburg United); Doctor Mampuru (Mamelodi Sundowns); Mpho Maropeng (Inter Africa Academy); Ayanda Lubelo (Africa Sport Academy); Mbuso Manyoni (SuperSport United) and Tshepo Gumede (SuperSport United).
Midfielders: Damien Mitchell (SuperSport United); Sheldon Stevens (SuperSport United); Jabulani Ncubeni (Maritzburg United); Augustine Leonard (Moroka Swallows) and Menzi Masuku (Africa Sport Academy)
Strikers: Nhlakanipho Khumalo (Moroka Swallows); Philani Khwela (Feyenoord); Xolani Mdaki (Mamelodi Sundowns); Tshegofatso Ramabu (Kaizer Chiefs).