When asked what playing and coaching experience he has, Molefi Ntseki rattles off dates, clubs and places as if he was reading them from his CV. But he is not. He simply knows them off by heart. It is an indication of his coaching philosophy: Everything is done with meticulous planning. “It comes from my teaching background. That is how I obtained my teaching diploma. The methodology and the way to present to players comes from a teaching background and from what I learnt when I was doing my coaching courses.”
When he took over the South African U-17 team in April last year, Ntseki faced numerous challenges, but he pinpoints the players' self-esteem as the biggest hurdle. “South Africa had many very talented players, but they did not believe in themselves. They gave opponents too much respect.”
It was something that he started to work on straight away as the team embarked on the difficult journey toward Chile. “During the qualifiers for the African championships, we kept on saying that we were going to the finals in Niger. And then once we were there, we changed our goal to be getting to Chile, and we focused on that. And in that way we came to the belief that this could be the team to take South Africa to the World Cup.”
In Niger the team drew with Mali and Côte d'Ivoire, and they secured the tense victory they needed against Cameroon to qualify for the semi-finals, which ensured qualification for Chile.
In the semi-finals, they managed to beat bitter rivals Nigeria and although they lost the championship match against Mali, Ntseki was satisfied with the performance. “It was a great feeling, not only for me as an individual, but for the whole country. Everybody rallied behind us, and it was a very exciting moment to see the team qualify for the U-17s for the first time.”
In Chile, South Africa will face Korea DPR, Costa Rica and Russia in Group E. “We are expecting very strong, very organised teams that will dig deep to win, and so we will go to Chile with a lot of respect for every country. Just as all the countries that have qualified should also have a lot of respect for us.”
With a target of getting out of the group, Ntseki says anything can happen once a team gets into the knockout rounds. “By then we will have seen what the other teams are doing, and we will have improved. Every game you play becomes an experience on its own, and by the time you get to the fourth game we should have an excellent understanding of what we can achieve.”
He said that it is likely that the nucleus of players who took the team to Chile will make up the squad and he is confident that not only can they do well in Chile but that they can also help the country develop further. “This team is a foundation for the future. Just in terms of having played at the African championships and the World Cup, they will have gained a lot of experience, and they will be coming to a good age for the 2022 World Cup. So yes, the future looks very bright for our country.”