South Africa will need to be watchful of Zimbabwe who will approach their today’s opening COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship Group A encounter like wounded tigers.
This is according to SA’s National Under-20 (Amajita) coach Helman Mkhalele, who stated that Zimbabwe will come out guns blazing to settle an old score of what had transpired in the 2018 COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship final out in Kitwe, Zambia.
Amajita were crowned the 2018 Southern Region football champions, after beating Zimbabwe 4-3 on penalties in a highly contested tie which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Mkhalele, who was serving as an assistant coach to the now Lesotho senior national team coach Thabo Senong, stated that memory is most likely to be fresh in their opponents’ minds when the two nations meet today at the Wolfson Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
Amajita’s Group A clash against Zimbabwe will kick-off at 15h30.
“I remember that match quite well and I must say it was one of the toughest encounters we played in that tournament,” Mkhalele said. “Zimbabwe have talented, mobile and hardworking players and we are expecting a similar fight from them like they gave us in 2018, in (today’s) clash.
“We have made our intentions very clear from the onset during our preparation camp with the boys,” Mkhalele added. “And that is: we want to win this championship and also qualify for next year’s U-20 AFCON tournament in Mauritania. We have prepared well and we will stop at nothing in reaching this goal.”
Mkhalele, who had a glittering career as a player winning major trophies such as the 1995 CAF Champions League with Orlando Pirates, the 1996 AFCON tournament with Bafana Bafana and featuring in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, stated that leading Amajita in their quest of qualifying for major tournaments such as the AFCON, was a dream come true for him as a coach.
“I never got to represent my country as a junior during my playing days,” Mkhalele said. “And to be given an opportunity to lead one’s country in this COSAFA tournament, which also doubles up as a U-20 AFCON qualifier, is truly an honour for me. We reached the final last year (only to lose to Zambia), and we just want to eclipse our performance from the previous edition.
“Working alongside the then Amajita coach Thabo Senong made it very easy for me to settle and adapt quicker into this head coaching role. I will forever be grateful for his contribution he has made in my coaching career.”
By Mohau Ramashidja