Arriving at Nike Football Centre in Soweto for the start of the 2019 Discovery Walter Sisulu Soccer Challenge on Sunday December 1, Banyana Banyana striker Amanda Mthandi was smiling from ear to ear.
Not only was Mthandi looking forward to some exciting action on the day but the 23-year-old has fond memories of the tournament named after one of one of SA’s struggle heroes and as with previous years, the tournament is open to local U17 and senior teams of both men and women.
Now in its 17th edition, the tournament has launched the careers of many a star.
This is where it all started for former Bafana Bafana stars Siphiwe Tshabalala and Reneilwe Letsholonyane, just to mention a few.
Mthandi, who hails from Orlando East, is no exception and hers is a remarkable story, with references to the tournament.
In 2017, Mthandi was playing for Jabu All Stars women’s team and they won the Discovery Walter Sisulu Soccer Challenge, and she in turn won the heart of Banyana Banyana coach, Desiree Ellis, who had been monitoring her.
On November 11, 2018, Mthandi made her debut for Banyana against Ghana at the Accra Sports Stadium – a friendly Banyana lost 1-0.
Barely eight months later, the final year Transport Management student at University of Johannesburg was part of Banyana’s history-making squad that made their maiden appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France last year.
For Mthandi, who’s also comfortable on the wing and currently plays for UJ in the new Women’s National League, it all started at the Discovery Walter Sisulu Soccer Challenge.
This tournament is without doubt a breeding ground for talent and Mthandi, still smiling, concurred.
“There is so much talent that is not discovered and this is a platform to showcase your talent,” said Mthandi, who’s one of the ambassadors for this year’s tournament.
In South Africa, the playing fields are not levelled between men and women’s football. While the former has made headway over the years and has tons of sponsors, women’s football has been lagging behind.
The tournament, however, is one of the platforms where there’s an effort to bridge the gap considering women’s teams participate and players are being discovered there.
It all augurs for the nation and Mthandi believes the Discovery Walter Sisulu Soccer Challenge is aiding the process.
Meanwhile, Zakhele Lepasa’s story is well documented.
From playing in the Discovery Walter Sisulu Soccer Challenge to winning the 2018 Nedbank Cup with GladAfrica Championship side TS Galaxy, he’s now back at parent club, Orlando Pirates.
But you may not be aware that Lepasa used to turn out for Sneke Chillers and was instrumental in their Discovery Walter Sisulu Soccer Challenge triumph last year. He holds the tournament dear to his heart.
“The tournament really helps with your development,” said Lepasa on day one while watching from the sidelines and shared his views on his former team, Sneke Chillers, who are the defending champions.
“Last year Sneke Chillers were the underdogs and now it’ll be a different ball game, because we won it. Now everyone is going to be watching Sneke Chillers,” said the 22-year-old, who wished the champions well for the tournament that is running from December 1-29.
Not that Sneke Chillers need much luck. After all, they had a walk in the park and dispatched Zola Amagents with a 5-1 scoreline on day one. They are certainly the team to watch.
If the football displayed on day one is anything to go by and there were plenty of exciting moments, the tournament would once again live up to expectations and naturally, Discovery Marketing Manager Experiential & Sponsorships Mcebisi Mtshali was pleased.
“I think it was fantastic. The tournament is a great vehicle for the Discovery core values and our vitality pledge,” he said.
“Our vitality pledge is to help make 100 million people worldwide 20% more active by 2025 and the greatest most effective way of doing that, I think, is a football tournament. Football is the most popular sport in the country.
“It’s a massive growth that we’ve gone from 16 teams in 2002 to 120 now. The tournament does a lot more than just produce football stars,” Mtshali added.
DAY 1 RESULTS…
FC Barcenal 7 vs.1 Eldo Spurs FC
Pimville West Ham 1 vs.1 Young Professionals FC
Super Spurs FC 2 vs.3 Meadowlands Academy
Southern Callies 2 vs.0 BH Stars
Kathorus Hyper Academy 5 vs.0 Meisie Knight Stars
Gauteng SAPS 4 vs. 1 Amasalamusi
White City Spur 1vs. 0 Orlando Real Stars
Sneke Chillers 5 vs. 1 Zola Amagents
Soweto Fabulous Ladies 2 vs.0 Mito Stars Ladies
DAY 2 FIXTURES
(Monday, December 2)
Killarney Motswako vs. Gallacticos Under 17 (09:00)
Lenasia Academy vs. Qhakaza Football Development Under 17 (09:00)
Devland Holly Boys vs. Midas Football Academy Under 17 (10:00)
Jobe FC vs. K.F.C Under 17 (10:00)
Orlando Real Sweepers vs. Soweto Sports Academy Under 17 (11:00)
Mike Stars vs. Orange Army Under 17(11:00)
Dube Continental vs. Jobe FC (12:00)
Transition Football vs. OPS Shining Stars (12:00)
Look Land vs. Double Classic (13:30)
Flamingo vs. Calcio (13:30)
Pimville United vs. Meadowlands Harmony (15:00)
NML Stars vs. Grace Land (15:00)
Soweto Super United vs. Happy Stars (16:30)