The South African national soccer team has advanced to the second round of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Egypt, and will face Ghana for a spot in the quarterfinals. The team is hoping its performance bodes well for the South African World Cup in 2010.
With an elimination round match with fellow contenders Ghana looming, the South African Under-20 national soccer team is already making waves on the African soccer scene, several months before the senior World Cup kicks off in their home country.
The Amajita had already out-performed the expectations of most by simply qualifying for the first time in years for the Under-20 World Cup, a biennial youth tournament. In Egypt, they have impressed even more by advancing to the second round.
South African coach Serame Letsoaka said his young team's success bodes well for the senior team's preparations for next year's World Cup.
"We are definitely hopeful that when we come to 2010 the country will be ready," Letsoaka said. "For us to go through as the Under-20, this will be a good omen for our senior boys who must also make sure that they play very well in the World Cup."
On and off the field, the South Africans have been warmly received at the northern end of the continent. Just as South Africans excitedly cheered the Egyptian team at the Confederations Cup in South Africa earlier this year, Egyptians have turned out in large numbers to encourage the Bafana Bafana, to the delight of the players and coach.
"We are in Africa, and I really expected Egypt will be behind all the other African countries that are here," Letsoaka said. "We have really got a lot of support from our Egyptian counterparts. We also supported all the teams to make sure that we don't just get out of the first round - all of us, the teams in Africa - while we are hosting a tournament of this magnitude. The supporters were behind us maybe because of the type of football that we played."
The South African team started off slowly in the tournament, getting just one point from their first two matches. The team then put in a dominating performance Saturday, beating Honduras to clinch their spot in the final, knock out round. Facing a win-or-go-home scenario against Ghana, Letsoaka said now is the time for his team to perform.
Ghana, which swept through its group in first place and is considered one of the strongest sides at this year's tournament, is favored to defeat South Africa. But South African coach Letsoaka remains optimistic.
"We definitely have opportunities going into the next round," he said. "It is not a situation when you say, I can still play in the next round. This is where you go and play, and the next level obviously will be very high."
With the second round kicking off, the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup is reaching its final stages. Several African teams, including host Egypt, are still in the running for the championship game, which will be played on October 16 in Cairo.