Sport

With a World Cup ticket punched, Senong guns for Senegal

2019-02-11 17:22

Amajita earn vital win in their Afcon group, tidily securing a Poland pass and a shot at African title.

South African football sealed yet another golden ticket to a Fifa tournament when the national Under-20 squad, Amajita, emulated Banyana Banyana by qualifying for a World Cup.

Amajita finished unbeaten in their group at the Under-20 Afcon in Niger to join Senegal, Mali and Nigeria as the continent’s representatives at the global championships in Poland from May 23 to June 15.

The hard-fought win against Burundi on Friday also confirmed a semifinal date with Senegal on Wednesday at the championships, which are being held in Niger.

“Thank God for helping us to qualify. This is a second World Cup in a row and a third Afcon [semifinal qualification],” said coach Thabo Senong, whose team went into their final group fixture against Burundi needing a win to keep their dream alive.

Amajita opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw against hosts Niger last Saturday and earned another point in a goalless draw against Nigeria on Tuesday.

“It shows that we really want to be one of the best teams on the continent.”

With the ticket to Poland punched, Senong was still hopeful for a good run in South Africa’s chase for the elusive continental crown, which Amajita last won in 1997, and finished fourth at the 2017 and 2009 editions.

He is buoyed by the improvement from the 2017 championships in Zambia, where his team conceded five goals during the group stage, compared with just one they let in this time.

Goalkeeper and captain Khulekani Kubheka has been the difference in Niger since his return against Nigeria.

“We always want to improve in our defence. That’s what we are planning to do in the knockout stage. The players’ nerves are now gone. They have improved in confidence. I hope they can be better in the fourth game.

“All the eight teams that came here came with the hope of winning the championship,” said Senong of the Niger tournament, which finishes next Sunday.

“We’ll still work hard. We know it’s a tough assignment, but we have a good game plan. I believe in the boys. We are tactically flexible.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s semifinal at Stade Général Seyni Kountché in Niamey, Senong described Senegal as a team of hard workers.

Amajita and the Young Lions of Teranga are familiar foes. The two have met on several occasions, including at the last Under-20 Afcon in Zambia, where the west African nation prevailed with a 4-3 win before the two progressed in their group en route to their qualification for the 2017 World Cup.

For Wednesday’s game, Senong said they needed to show the same discipline and organisational skills that warded off the Nigeria and Niger attacks in the first round.

“Senegal are one of the best Under-20 national teams on the continent. We have been following them [for some time],” noted Senong.

“You have to work very hard because they are a team of fast attacking players on transitions. We need to be organised.”

The draw for the World Cup is scheduled for February 24 in Poland.

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February 17 2019