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Sundowns, Wits lose out on junior final

Soccer

JOHANNESBURG – A fan wearing a Kaizer Chiefs’ jersey stood and shouted angrily at the match official from the stands at the Nike Football Training Centre in Pimville, Soweto on Friday, where the Future Champions Gauteng International Tournament semi-finals took place.

“That was an unfair call Mr Ref’,” he bellowed with frustration.

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Mamelodi Sundowns in action against NPFL All Stars of Nigeria. Photo: @FutureChampsU17 on Twitter

Nigerian’s NPFL All Stars were already 1-0 up just few minutes into the first period and now stood a chance of making it 2-0 leading up to the halftime break.

A Mamelodi Sundowns player had committed a foul inside that 18-yard area box, and All Stars didn’t waist the chance.

They converted that spot-kick and ended up winning the encounter 3-0 to progress to the finals, where they’ll lock horns with Spanish side and defending champions Atletico Madrid on Saturday at the very same venue.

That fan, who remained animated through that match, gesticulating in disbelief each time a decision went against Sundowns’ favour, didn’t care about the fact his jersey colours didn’t correspond with the ones he was so passionately supporting on the pitch.

It was quite clear that for him, and the Bidvest Wits brass band which played their musical instruments with great passion on the sidelines in support of the Chloorkop outfit as well, it was more about national pride than anything else.

Both wanted to see a South African team go through the finals. But it was not to be.

Sundowns fell to the sword of a Nigerian side which played a football match as if it were a game of chess.

Every goal All Stars scored was well thought out, ruthless and awesome in its final implementation. They pounced on every defensive error Sundowns made in their rearguard.

Masandawana legend Michael Manzini, who was part of Sundowns’ juniors technical staff, admitted that his side lost to a better team.

“They (All Stars) played in patches,” Manzini said. “Every goal they scored against us was well thought out. They knew when to attack us and when and not to. It was a bit difficult for us (to cope).

“You could tell that they’ve (All Stars) played in demanding situations like these before. We would have loved to have made it to the finals, but it was not to be for us. It’s just one of those things that we’ll have to move on from, and hopefully learn from this experience.”

Wits were the second South African side to fall short of making it to the finals this year. They went down by a 5-2 scoreline against a Spanish side who proved to be more determined to reach the finals and defend their title.

Madrid’s head coach Armando de la Morena said he was pleased with how his side performed against a side who gave them a tough time in last year’s final, where they played to a 2-1 victory against Wits to clinch the junior tournament title.

However, the Spaniard warned that the job was not done yet as they’ll now be playing against a side, All Stars, which has proven that they have what it takes to be crowned this year’s champions.

Meanwhile, Future Champions International Tournament director Ray Whelan said he was pleased with the quality of football which was on display throughout the week, adding that the final was bound to be a whole lot more interesting.

“I’m really looking forward to (today’s) final,” Whelan said. “I don’t want to predict who is going to win it because both sides had a tough week, with regards to the amount of matches they’ve played in leading up to today’s match.

“My only plea is to see the community of Soweto to come out in their numbers to support these lads. These are our future stars.”

Saturday’s Fixtures

Third place playoff: Mamelodi Sundowns v Bidvest Wits (11.30am)

Final: Atletico Madrid v NPFL All Stars (1pm)

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