Amajimbos are currently in Niger taking part in the 2015 CAF African Youth Championship tournament – they booked their place in the semi-final of the event following a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday, 22 February in the last group stages match, automatically qualifying for the world soccer showpiece.
The South Africans are still in with a chance to win the title in Niger, but will have to ward off the challenge of Nigeria in the last four – the two meet on Wednesday, 25 February.
SAFA Media gathered his thoughts on the latest developments of South African football.
Matlhomola Morake: Coach what’s your take on Amajimbos qualifying for the FIFA World Cup?
Ephraim Mashaba: First of all congratulations to the technical team under the leadership of head coach Molefi Ntseki. We are also happy for the achievement of the players, the very people who did the business. We have not just qualified for the World Cup, we are about to snatch a double because the AYC is still on and there is a trophy at stake. Win the next match and we are in the final and anything can happen there.
But we are saying it’s good for our football in general as it has been a long time since we had our junior national teams qualifying for any tournament, let alone the World Cup. So this means that our structures are starting to shape up very well and this augers well for the U20 squad which departs for Senegal soon, they will also have to reach the semis as well to get to the World Cup. With all these happenings you can see that the Gods of football are smiling on us and we are on a good course.
But this must not be a once off thing because we have now set a standard for ourselves. We can’t look back now. Bafana Bafana qualified for AFCON for the first time in many years; Banyana Banyana were in the CAF AWC even though they could not qualify for the World Cup; the U17 has just done it in Niger, and soon the U20s will be heading out to go and compete in Senegal.
What is left is for the U23 squad to get on board, but we are still putting together their programme and it will soon kick off. They also have to work hard, do well in the All Africa Games to prepare thoroughly for the Olympics in Rio 2016.
MM: All these achievements by our national teams, what do they mean for the future of our football?
EM: I would say the future is looking bright for our football. If you look at the U17s, some of those boys will graduate to U20, and those ones will move to U23 and Bafana Bafana – a case in point is that four of the players in the current U20 squad were selected in the first group of the Bafana Bafana squad for the AFCON 2015 qualifiers (Fagrie Lakay, Siyanda Ngubo, Ayabulela Konqobe (formerly Magqwaka) and Dumisani Msibi) and this supports my view that the future looks good. By the time the U17 players get to the higher levels they will have been exposed to all the competitions and rigours of international football and what more can you ask for.
MM: The U20s are going to AYC where they stand a chance of qualifying for the World Cup too, how much inspiration should they draw from the performance of the U17 team?
EM: Did you say inspiration? I think it is more like pressure because now everyone says the U17s have qualified so you can also do it as the U20 team. But it should be a yardstick for them to say if Amajimbos have qualified why not us? Like I indicated earlier on, we have set ourselves a standard, if the U17 team qualified then it is a must that the U20s should qualify and the same goes for U23 with the Olympics. We recently went to AFCON as Bafana Bafana and Banyana went to the AWC, so we should keep it that way and next time end up in the finals of all these competitions.
MM: You are in PE to watch U20 prepare for CAF AYC and you saw them play against Chippa United, what do you think are our chances in Senegal?
EM: Unfortunately friendlies differ from the real thing. But Amajita played very well in PE. The goalkeeper did very well, I was impressed by the defence and the midfield was solid, but we just need to work on improving the striking force, which is a problem in our country at all levels of football. But I am confident they can do well because I saw a lot of positives from that match which can help us at the tournament.