The under-12 team of Mophela Primary School, from Hammarsdale in KwaZulu-Natal, got their second victory at the Danone Nations Cup World Finals when they beat the team from Senegal in a 17th to 32nd playoff game in New York on Saturday.
They lost their other two matches, which means that they will be playing off for position 25 or 26 on Sunday, against England, a team that they beat in their preliminary pool on day 1.
In their first second round playoff game, South Africa took on Belgium. They did not play their normal game and they let a very weak side dominate them. Belgium had quite a few chances in the first 10 minutes of the game but it took a goalkeeping error for them to score the only goal of the match.
Njabulo Ndhlovo tried his hardest to equalise for the team and was their best player. He had a chance to score in one of the last moves of the match but the ball slid off his foot wide of the goal. On any other day he would have scored that goal.
That brought South Africa up against Senegal – the first time that the team played against African opposition. The African teams support each other at this tournament, but this time they had to face each other with the prospect of ending up in a lower classification game if they lost.
Due to this, the game was a tense affair. Neither team was prepared to lose so there were few good chances to score. The game finished 0-0 and went to penalties. South Africa won the penalty shootout 3-2 with goalkeeper Ndumiso Gumede scoring the winning goal
Coach, Syabonga Ndimande, took a totally different approach to their final game of the day, against Bulgaria. He started with all of his substitutes and rested his top players. Unfortunately the experiment totally backfired, and the team soon found themselves 3-0 behind.
Siyabonga made a couple of quick substitutions and Njabula Ndlovo and Joel Mpofu immediately made an impact. They created South Africa’s only chances of the game and Joel scored just before full time.
Even though the team lost the game the coach was very happy with the decision that he made to play the substitutes.
“There are no tourists in the team,” he said. “All of the players flew to New York to play and it is not fair on the bench players if they do not get a chance.
“I am happy that they played but unfortunately in a competition like this, a small loss in intensity by the players results in a loss.”
The team plays its final classification match on Sunday, at New York’s Red Wing Arena, and returns to South Africa on Monday.