THE Gauteng inter-district playoff of the under-12 Danone Nations Cup will take place on May 28 and 29 and two Pretoria schools – Lotus Primary School in the Tshwane West District and Northridge Primary School in Tshwane North – have emerged as hot contenders.
Three years ago, when Lotus Primary played in their first Danone Nations Cup, they realised that the competition was tough and if they wanted to get somewhere in the tournament they would have to start preparing much earlier.
Fast forward to 2014, the then 8 and 9 year olds are now 11 and 12 and, according to their coach, Ernest Bennett, they have the confidence, experience and are equipped to deal with the high level of competition in the tournament.
“The boys are strong in their passes, footwork and their speed has improved tremendously, I believe this is the year that we are going to represent Gauteng at the nationals,” he said.
Bennett doesn’t think his players are intimidated by the opposition. “All the boys play for local teams, some of them in the under-13 leagues, so they are physically and mentally fit, they have a clear and better understanding of the game, We played 6 school in the cluster games and won all, the boys are hungry and determined to win this tournament this year .”
Bennett describes his coaching style as restrained. “I refuse to shout at players while they are playing. I only talk to them during half time and tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing. We are dealing with young minds, they need to be free with you and not be scared to voice their opinions.”
Themba Skhosana, a left wing, is the key player in the team. “He is tricky and uses the ball effectively, he was the man of the match on Saturday when we played our district qualifier games,” Bennett said. “He is a quality player and always gives his best in every game; you should definitely be on the lookout for him.”
Northridge Primary School coach, Noel Nquku, also believes his team has a good chance of going further in the competition.
This is just the second time the school has played in the tournament and Nquku said they used last year to see what it was all about, this time he thinks they can go much further. “This year we are coming into the tournament with a better understanding of the competition and we are better prepared and are ready for the challenge,” he said.
All of last year’s players are back in the squad, so they are familiar with the tournament, they have gained the experience and are confident that this year they will take the title, said Nquku. “Our performance has improved from last year, the players are more vigilant and their passing skills are better,” Nquku said.
The team is playing in a local schools league in preparation and Nquku said they are using that to strategise and to decide on formations.
“The boys are motivated by the idea of going to Brazil if they win the national title and they always have that at the back of their minds every time they play a game in this tournament.”
The team’s captain, midfielder Katlego Molase, left wing Lebohang Maseko and right wing Brilliance Mokekwa are the players Nquku will be looking to produce the goods for the team in the regional finals. “They make a dynamite team and have proved to be the best,” he said
The Gauteng provincial finals will take place at Reiger Park, Boksburg, on June 14.