Monday, 29 September 2014

Restoring the nation's pride: AmaJimbos arrive home to a hero's welcome. The boys have become men.

FLYING HIGH: Vuyo Mantjie about to embark on his first flight
No matter how much televised football you put your family through over the past few days, you won't have seen the great success story of the weekend.


Ahead of Pirate-plundering Chippa United, perfect Kaizer Chiefs and even unbeaten Chelsea, the team of the weekend for me were the "bunch of winners" nobody in South Africa was able to watch on screen (thanks very much SABC and SuperSport): Our Under 17 AmaJimbos.

While Arsenal were concluding their 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby and Stuart Baxter’s Chiefs were putting together their 11th win in 11 games to start the season at Soccer City, Molefi Ntseki’s men were at Cairo’s Contractors’ Stadium in front of 3000 passionate Egyptians trying to defend a 2-1 home advantage.


Nobody expected our youngsters, led by SuperSport United’s Nelson Maluleka who scored in the first leg at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium a fortnight ago, to qualify for the African Youth Championship in Niger next year. But then we know so little about these highly motivated lads.


Cairo king: The AmaJimbos celebrate their 2-2 draw on Saturday
I've been fortunate enough to see them in action a couple of times. In goal SuperSport's Mondli Mpoto is another Itumeleng Khune, out wide, Vuyo Mantjie from Harmony in the Free State weaves pure magic. At the back, towering Keanu Cupido holds it all together. And up front, Khayisa Mayo - son of Bafana Bafana's Patrick - will sign professionally with SuperSport United next year.


I couldn’t secure a visa for Cairo, but I've caught up with most of what happened on Saturday. Mayo scored the first goal to make it 3-1 on aggregate to the AmaJimbos. And his second goal, drawing the keeper before scoring with a neat chip, was apparently a thing of real beauty.


The Egyptians, the powerhouse of African football with all the big records at international (seven Afcons) and club level (Al Ahly and Zamalec) fought back from 2-0 down to 2-2 but were ousted 4-3 on aggregate.


Coach Molefi Ntseki and his lads had, remarkably, broken with acceptable practice. They had overcome the Pharoahs.


It has been a long road to Niger 2015 (and if they get to the African semi-finals, the U17 World Cup in Chile): It started with two friendly wins over Lesotho, then two warm-up wins in Botswana. I was there for the 0-0 draw in Tanzania when Mantjie and several of his pals took their first ever trip on a airplane to Dar Es Salaam. Then came the rousing 4-0 win at Dobsonville to open the route to Cairo.

And now, 7000kms and EIGHT unbeaten games later, Ntseki – backed by assistant coach Shawn Bishop and goalkeeping mentor Stavros Tschiclas – our Under 17s have joined the Amajitas and Banyana Banyana in qualifying for their African tournament.

Welcome home: the AmaJimbos this morning
Predictably, Ntseki is cockahoop:  “Yes, this is a good achievement and great for my CV but I am now looking beyond Niger; I want to take these boys to Chile for the World Cup. The reality of qualifying for Niger has now sunk in and I am gunning for more success.”

Ntseki, 45, is an impressive figure. Tall, imposing, not to be taken lightly. Bishop is younger, softer. Together they father these boys, and get the best from them. Ntseki insists: “There is massive talent in South Africa and the boys have shown what we can achieve if we stick together and have a common purpose.


“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the SAFA President, Dr Danny Jordaan, his executive and the entire administration for their unwavering support for the team. As for the SAFA President (Dr Danny Jordaan); he is one man who has supported this team through and through. The man is a true leader. He was there to see the team off to Egypt and was the first to congratulate the team after the final whistle in Cairo.”





And then the soft, heart-felt conclusion: “I am always on the road and without my wife’s assurance, looking after our three boys, I would not be what I am developing into.”


On Sunday, Ntseki and the squad spent the day touring the great pyramids of Egypt. They arrived home yesterday in Johannesburg. There will be plenty of travelling to come. Niger next year and, God willing, Chile after that.


Today at Oliver Tambo International, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula joined the admiring throng, promising unspecified "rewards" for the youngsters and adding: "You did the country proud, conquering Egypt is a monumental achievement. You boys have become men.


"We had become a laughing stock on the African continent. You have demystified this myth. Now stay away from drugs and drinking... but you are under 18 and by law that is not allowed!"


SAFA president Danny Jordaan chipped in: "You have the world at your feet. Your achievement is humungous. There are 54 nations in Africa and already you among the top eight. If you do well in Niger next year, you will represent this continent at the World Cup in Chile."


Regular readers of this column will know I've been backing Ntseki's AmaJimbos for months. Can they finish in the top four in Niger next year? NO QUESTION!


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