The South African Men’s U17 National Team, Amajimbos, have completed their weeklong training camp in Johannesburg.
Head coach Molefi Ntseki called up 21 players to put them through their paces as part of preparation for the next year’s CAF African Youth Championship that will take place in Niger from 15 February to 1 March.
The camp started on Tuesday, 16 December.
During camp they played two practice matches against the youth teams of Senaoane Gunners (Thursday, 18 December) and Orlando Pirates (Saturday, 20 December). Amajimbos won both matches 1-0.
SAFA Media sat down with Ntseki at the end of the training camp to get his thoughts.
What was the purpose of this training camp?
First of all we must thank the Almighty for blessing us with the success of qualifying for the AYC in Niger. It was tough but because it was meant to be, we managed to qualify. We should also thank everyone for their contribution in making it to Niger. For the training camp we just wanted to take the boys through some training drills so that we can a picture of what their state of readiness is going into the Christmas break and most importantly to give them a training program so they keep fit and sharp during this short break. We realised that over the last few months they have gained weight because they haven’t been training much due to exams, so it was a very important camp for the whole team.
Did you achieve your objective?
Yes we did. A few weeks ago we took a different team to play in the Zone 6 Games in Zimbabwe leaving out most players who did duty during the qualifiers of AYC. For this camp we took some of those boys who were in Zimbabwe and the core of our U17 squad to bring the two together so we can have a solid team that is tactically and technically on the same level on the demands of international football and it worked well for us.
You played two practice matches during this camp, what would say was the objective?
The objective was to mix the two groups I mentioned above and try to get them to have an understanding of each other and of what we want as the technical team. In the first match they were a bit tense and slow in their decision-making. They were not as sharp as we would have loved them to be but being the first of the two groups together it was to be expected and they used it more get a rapport and build friendships on the field. The second match we played our best eleven in the first half, most of the boys that got us to Niger, the second half we used those that didn’t play regularly and those who just came into the squad but they did very well because the two halves we played we had different tactical approaches and they adapted well.
Any concerns from the two matches?
The most important thing is that going into a tournament we need to improve tactically and technically. By the latter we mean when you get a chance you don’t score, that might be the only chance you get in Niger. Tactically we have to understand our movements in the game going forward to attack and in defence. The other part is physical – we want to play a high-tempo game and do that we have to high anaerobic endurance because in South Africa we don’t have big build players but very quick which requires high fitness levels. We also need to be prepared mentally to play away before we even get to Niger so that we are ready and know the expectations and handle any kind of pressure that might arise out of our friendlies as we prepare for Niger.
You took the team to watch the PSL match between Orlando Pirates and Bloemfontein Celtic, any lessons for the boys?
The game really helped the technical team to show the boys what to do or what not to do. The most important thing I emphasised to them was that Celtic were playing very high tempo and their transition going forward and in defence was very good, using their speed to perfection but missed too many chances and I told them that these things happen. We also picked on the mistakes made by the two teams and we need to minimize in our games. So it was an important exercise for all.
Is this the final team for Niger?
It is a yes and no. No because there was a boy we saw in one of the two matches that we would like to bring to our squad to have a closer look at him and see how he performs outside the comfort zone that is his club. The yes part is that we have the core of the team and we are not going to temper much with what we have because the boys that are in this team have been together for a very long time. The bigger challenge we have is that there is a big gap between playing for a club and the national team and when these boys come here for the first time they freeze, and we don’t have enough time to work on them to help them acclimatize. The boys we have already know what we are looking for and have experienced pressure and playing in and outside of the countries. But if there is any player that can add value to the team, especially if they are mentally g, we will consider them.
End of the camp, players going on holiday, how do you hope to keep the players fit especially during this period of festivities?
We have made them aware that they need to take care of themselves and to help them we have handed out training programs on how to look after themselves. We had a heart to heart talk with on how to conduct themselves since they are in the national team and avoid things that will derail their careers. The program is designed in a way that they have to respect it and work on it every day and when they come back we will conduct tests. And we made it clear to them that if they fail the tests we will send them back home so it is important for them to stick to it and be professional about it. We are also dependent on the parents and guardians that they instill in these boys that they have chosen a career that needs to be looked after because Niger is not far.
Niger is sorted, what is the focus now?
For all of us, more than anything, Niger is in the past and by that we don’t mean we are going to walk over our opponents there. We are simply saying when we started on this road, we said we are going to Niger, we have achieved that. Now we are saying the boys must mentally tell themselves that we are now on the road to Chile for the World Cup. We don’t want these players to look down on themselves and be scared of taking on other teams, we are just giving them the confidence to look ahead to the World Cup. We want them to look beyond Niger but sweat blood to get to Chile – whoever comes our way we have to beat them, irrespective of who it is.
Source : South African Football Association