Cape stars sparkle in soccer showdown

MZOXOLO BUDAZA

This year’s Metropolitan under-19 Premier Cup trophy may have gone to Pretoria’s Supersport United after they beat Ajax 1-0 in the final, in Belhar on Monday, but Cape Town players had played a major role in that victory.

Former Silver Spurs and Ajax junior winger, Safwan Hendricks, former Santos under-19 captain Fagrie Lakay and former Hellenic and Milano defender Riyaaz Ismail were brilliant in their respective positions as Supersport marched to victory at this year’s competition.

Lakay was named top goal-scorer of the tournament after finding the back of the net seven times en route to the final.

Ismail was solid at the back for his side while Hendricks caused serious problems for their opponents down the left flank.

The final between Ajax and Supersport had all the characteristics of junior football at its best as both sets of players showed good understanding of the game.

Neither of the two sides were favourites going to this match as they had been equally impressive throughout the competition. Ajax booked their spot in the final after beating newcomers Ikapa Sporting 3-0 in the semi-final while Supersport had to fight hard for their 1-0 victory over fellow PSL side Bidvest Wits, in their semi-final match. The final started off on a high note, with both sides showing good touches on the ball. Ajax were the first to get a real scoring chance but the upright came to Supersport’s rescue.

That seemed to be the wake up call they needed, as they responded immediately but, with Ajax defence taking no prisoners and goalkeeper Darren Johnson making spectacular saves, were unable to convert their chances into goals.

Tackles were also coming fast and furious as both sets of players left nothing to chance. In the engine room, it was the battle of the number 10 as Ajax’s Masilake Phohlongo and Supersport’s Maluleke fought hard for control of the territory. The two teams went to the half-time break with the score at 0-0.

The second half also started on a high note with Supersport finding the back of the net through Nelson Maluleke after great work from the right flank.

The visitors were now asking questions, with Lakay pestering the defence but, Ajax captain Shane Saralina, who was later named player of the tournament, was solid at the back.

And, when Supersport were able to stretch the Ajax defence, Johnson was able to read the situation. Running out of time, Ajax brought in play-maker Luthando Mateza and, soon had Supersport on the back foot.

They pressed hard for the equaliser but just couldn’t get anything past goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto, who was later named goalie of the tournament. Mpoto made one spectacular save after another to keep his side in the game.

The Pretoria side tried to catch Ajax on a counter with Hendricks and Lakay causing most of the trouble up front. Although nothing came of that, the Urban Warriors had to settle for second best.

Ismail, Lakay and Hendricks all agreed it meant a lot to come back home and win the tournament.

Hendricks, from Tafelsig, said the fact that this was his first time taking part in the competition made the victory even more special for him.

“I can’t describe the feeling but I can tell you that we came here with a plan, that plan was to win the competition and that’s what we did.

“It was not easy but the guys fought for each other throughout the competition,” he said.

“That’s one of the most important things I’ve learnt here at Supersport, that the team is more important than any player. We have to work together for the benefit of the team and that’s what we did in this competition,” said the former Silver Spurs winger.

Ismail and Lakay, veterans in this competition having been there before, agreed.

Ismail, a former South African under-17 international, represented the country in last year’s Fifa under-17 World Cup in Chile.

He also played for Hellenic in the 2015 edition of the Premier Cup.

He said their side had to keep their cool under pressure to win this year’s competition.

“The coaches told us to go there and give it our best and we were able to do that. The final was tough as Ajax strikers came hard at us but we were able to hold our nerve,” he said.

Lakay’s last outing in the Premier Cup was when he played for Santos Academy in 2014.

Captaining the People’s Team, he was instrumental in his side’s inspired run in that year’s Premier Cup.

He almost single-handedly took his side to the quarter finals before losing to eventual champions Ajax Cape Town 5-4 on penalties.

He said finally winning the competition was special. This, he said, was because he tried hard to win every competition he played in.

“This competition was no different and the coach told us to take it one game at a time. The team played well throughout the competition and teamwork pulled us through difficult situations,” he said.