Thursday, June 22, 2017

Limpopo school prepares for the Danone Nations Cup national finals

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The final showdown in the biggest soccer tournament in the world for kids between the ages of 10 and 12, the Danone Nations Cup, is almost here.

On Saturday 1st July nine under-12 school teams, representing the nine provinces, will do battle at the WJ Clements Stadium in Reiger Park, fighting for the Danone nations Cup national title and, with it, the right to represent the country at the competition’s world finals in New York, USA in September.

Some 2 800 schools began the journey back in March and through a series of cluster leagues, inter-district playoffs, regional knockouts and provincial finals, they have been whittled down to the eight schools (Gauteng will be hosting the final provincial final on Saturday, 17th June) that will compete for the spot to represent SA at the world finals, along with the champion teams from 31 other countries. 

None of the schools competing, bar two, have experienced the national finals before. Mophela Primary School were KwaZulu-Natal champions in 2015 and Kimberley’s Roodepan Primary School represented the Northern Cape at the nationals in 2014 and 2015. As for the rest, some of them have been to provincial finals before, but no further.

The Danone Nations Cup national finals are always a surprise package. In age group sport, every year brings a new team with new players and new team strengths. Having a good team one year doesn’t necessarily mean that the school will be tops again the next.

Haggai Combined Private School will be representing Limpopo at the finals for the first time. Their coach, Justice Matloga, was at Benny’s Sports Academy and Development for many years until he went off to start his own venture.

He acknowledges that soccer is a team game, but he has in his team a couple of youngsters that are sensational and game changers. “You can’t count on one player to win games for you,” he said. “But a few players in key positions can make a big difference.”

Winning the Limpopo provincial title has been the biggest achievement for the school since it opened in 1993. Matloga has been following the competition on Facebook to see who they will be up against, but he says it is virtually impossible to predict which province will be the biggest challenge.

“I do know that it won’t be an easy ride,” he said. “All the other schools have the same dream we have – to get to the world finals.”

It’s exam time at the school, which is making their preparations difficult. “The kids must focus on studying so we don’t have much time for preparations. When I do get the team we focus on formations, keeping possession, communicating on the field and on winning as a team.”

The Mamelodi Sundowns development coaching team is working with a few of the Haggai players. “They are attending Sundowns training sessions and we are holding thumbs that they get incorporated into the development structures next year,” Matloga said.

It’s been an entire school effort with many of the high school players coming down to watch practices, encouraging the boys and giving them advice.

The coach has arranged games against the school’s under-14 and under-15 teams to help polish the team. “At the provincial finals our defence struggled, and it’s been useful playing against bigger boys so we can rectify that,” he said. 

Motloga is no stranger to big match pressure as he has been with Benny’s to many competitions at all age groups.

He is hoping that Haggai will be the second team from Limpopo in as many years win the national title.

The teams already through to the national finals are:
Eastern Cape: Isaacs Booi Primary School
Free State: Phaphama Intermediate School
KZN: Winner: Mophela Primary School
Limpopo: Haggai Combined Private School
Mpumalanga: Sekhulile Primary School
Northern Cape: Roodepan Primary School
North West: Mmamitlwa Primary School
Gauteng: Arcon Primary School
 Western Cape: Idas Valley Primary School

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