By MIHLALI BALEKA
Amajita claimed bronze in the Africa Youth Championships following a 5-3 win in the lottery of penalty shoot-outs against Nigeria in the third/fourth place play-offs after the game ended 0-0 in regulation time at Stade General Seyni Kountche on Saturday night in Niger.
Captain Khulekani Kubheka was yet again the hero for the South Africans as he pulled off an important save in the Flying Eagles’ initial spot kick in the shootouts.
This was a continuation from the qualifiers for the Amajita goalkeeper and captain as he had ensured that they made it to this tournament after spot-kick saves against Lesotho.
Amajita will now exit the tournament on a high especially with the qualification of the World Cup and third spot secured.
Coach Thabo Senong made six changes to the team that lost to Senegal in the semi-final of the tournament as he gave starts to Nkosingiphile Ngcobo, Malebogo Modise, Simphiwe Ncami, Njabulo Blom, Bayanda Shangase and Luvuyo Phewa.
Amajita started the encounter on a high note as they could easily combine the passes going forward. Their penetrative effect was centred around Ngcobo, who was a link between attack and defence.
Midway through the first half, they should have taken the lead when Ngcobo connected with Siphesishle Mkhize but for the latter to only deliver his header wide of the target.
The Nigerians nearly punished Amajita for that missed opportunity, but Paschal Durugbor also put his header wide. Durugbor is no stranger to scoring goals having netted the equaliser that took them to the lottery of penalties against Mali in the semi-final.
Kobamelo Kodisang, who plies his trade for Associação Desportiva Sanjoanense in Portugal, was the standout man for Amajita in the first half as he also came close to putting his name on the score-sheet but only to fluff the opportunity.
The second stanza lacked flow as both teams wanted to maintain their defensive record. Prior to this encounter, Amajita had kept two clean sheets while conceding only twice. On the other hand, the Flying Eagles had only conceded once against Mali in the semi-final.
The Nigerians, did, however, have numerous chances to take the lead in the second half but only to be denied by some brilliant goalkeeping from Kubheka or with their long-range attempts failing to hit the target.
However, neither side could find the breakthrough in regulation time and the two teams went straight into penalty shootouts. Senong’s men got all their kicks on target, while Mkhize scored the all-important decider that ensured that they grabbed their first ever third spot – and ultimately walking away with the bronze medal.
Meanwhile, Senegal will be hoping for a third-time-lucky charm when they play Mali in the final on Sunday, and with kick-off at 5:30 pm. In the previous edition, the Young Lions of Teranga finished second as they went down to hosts Zambia.