By Gareth Duncan in Lusaka, Zambia
The South African men’s U17 and women’s U20 football teams are on track to win gold at the Zone VI Games.
After two impressive wins against Malawi (4-0) and Botswana (3-2), the Amajimbos dropped their first log points as they shared the spoils with Zambia in the Group A decider at Nkoloma Stadium on Monday night.
The two teams were involved in a 0-0 stalemate, with both sides having opportunities to sneak in for the win. The SA U17s dominated the first half and exposed a weak Zambian defence thanks to their impressive wing attack. This saw the visitors awarded a penalty midway through the first half as Zambia struggled under pressure.
Midfielder Nhlakanopho Ntuli managed to send the opposition goalkeeper the wrong way, but he pulled his penalty attempt wide. Ntuli’s misfortune continued when he hit the cross bar from a freekick two minutes later. Zambia were lucky to be level at the break.
However, the rain starting falling at the start of the second stanza, and the Amajimbos struggled with their expansive approach in the wet conditions. This saw the momentum switch hands as Zambia started the half strongly. The hosts created several chances, especially with their aerial threat, but they failed to find the net in front of a full home crowd.
The result sees South Africa led Group A on goal difference, with Zambia (also on seven log points) in second. The Amajimbos face whipping boys Seychelles in their final round robin fixture on Wednesday before the semi-finals.
SA U17 head coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba believes his team will go on to win the gold medal.
‘We should’ve beaten Zambia. They had their backs against the wall but we failed to punish them,’ Mashaba told RoadtoRio.co.za. ‘Even without that penalty, we should’ve won 3-0. We lost shape in the second half, but we still held on.
‘We’ll go back to the drawing board ahead of our final group game against the Seychelles. I watched them play during the tournament, so I know what to do to beat them.
‘We travelled a long way to the Zone VI Games. A gold medal is non-negotiable. We came to Lusaka to win.’
Meanwhile, the Basetsana will play their last group tie against Zimbabwe on Tuesday.
The SA U20 ladies are undefeated after a 1-0 win over Zambia and 0-0 draw against Namibia. A win over Zimbabwe will give the team a huge confidence boost ahead of the play-offs, which will be played on Thursday.
‘We got the win over Zambia in our opening game, which is what we wanted,’ Basetsana head coach Sheryl Botes also told this site. ‘But Zimbabwe are a tricky team and boast some talented footballers. We’ll have play at our best to beat them. A win will be great for us as we plan to claim the gold medal.’