Amajita huffed and puffed, but couldn’t find the smoke that would progress them to the final of this year’s Africa Youth Championships following a 1-0 semi-final loss to Senegal in Niamey, Niger on Wednesday night.
The South Africans will now face Nigeria in the third-place playoff on Saturday at 5.30pm (SA time).
Meanwhile, the Senegalese side will lock horns with Mali in the final on Sunday, where they’ll be making their second successive appearance, having lost to hosts Zambia two years ago.
Having already qualified for their main target – the Fifa Under-20 World Cup, after finishing runners-up to Nigeria in Group A – the South Africans came into this encounter looking to emulate the class of 1997, who are still the only group to have made the final.
It was, however, the Senegalese that looked the hungrier of the two teams as they were comfortable on the ball and able to construct more penetrative passes at Stade General Seyni Kountche.
But yet again, that solid wall of the South African defence held on in the opening stages.
With the game starting to open up in the first half, Amajita slowly gelled as they took play into the final third of the field.
However, those balls were not as constructive as they’ve would have liked them to be as they couldn’t find a finisher upfront.
Moreover, one could argue that had Amajita coach Thabo Senong started with Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, they’d have had more penetrative balls into the Young Lions of Teranga’s defence.
Both teams created minimal chances leading up to the interval, but Amajita had the chance to take the lead from a delightful free kick – only for goalkeeper Dialy Ndiaye to quickly rush off his line to clear the ball from danger.
Senong finally headed the call, and Ngcobo came in for Kobamelo Kodisang – who had failed to replicate the form from that match against Burundi.
However, Senegal would only give ‘Mshini’ 10 minutes to find his feet before taking the lead.
Following continuous pressure on the Amajita defence, Senegal’s resilience finally paid off as Ousseynou Niang took a shot just inches inside the 18-area, before it took a huge deflection from Givemore Khupe to sail past a helpless Khulekani Kubheka.
Bayanda Shangase came close to taking the game into extra time, but his half-volley was kept out by some good goalkeeping from Ndiaye.
For players such Kubheka and Kodisang, this might be their last Under-20 Afcon tournament, but they’ll be thrilled with their contribution to the team.
They’ll be hoping to bounce out in style by at least finishing third – considering that they missed out on that spot in the previous edition.@Mihlalibaleka