Prem Cup promises plenty thrills and spills

MZOXOLO BUDAZA

The 28th edition of the Metropolitan under-19 Premier Cup kicked off at Erica Park, Belhar, yesterday, with the first five matches of the tournament producing fireworks.

Over the next five days, defending champions Glendene, from Lansdowne, will have their work cut out as they attempt to stop the other 32 teams – Harmony Sports Academy, Southampton FC, Juventus (Beaufort West), Bayhill United, Jomo Cosmos, Hellenic, Mitchell’s Plain Clinic of Excellence Football Academy, Supersport United FC, Amazulu, Cape United FC, Greenwood Athletic, Bidvest Wits, Chippa United, Atlantic Nacional, Mighty United, Ajax Cape Town, Shumba Academy, Riverside FC, Milano United, University of Pretoria, Bloemfontein Celtic, Avendale Athletico, IKapa Sporting, Swansea City, Glenwegians, Stephanian Ottery, PPG Langa, Mamelodi Sundowns, Zesco United, Old Mutual Academy and Stellenbosch University – from taking away the title they won when they beat JL Zwane in last year’s final.

Glendene’s defence of their title kicks off today when they take on Beaufort West’s Juventus FC in a Group A opening encounter.

And, coach Mangaliso “Shakes” Ntombana said they have left no stone unturned in their preparations, and the players are ready to defend their title.

“We have played a number of friendly matches, trying out different combinations and the players are responding well.

“We have a lot of young players in this squad and they have shown a hunger to do well for the team,” he said.

Ntombana said they were also aware that they will be the team to beat, come tournament time. As a result of this, he said, they didn’t mind whoever they were drawn against as all the teams would be motivated to beat the champions.

“We just need to stick to our game plan and be as disciplined as possible in all departments. So far the players have responded well and are looking sharp,” he said.

In yesterday’s action, Kewtown’s Avendale Athletico were looking to have a memorable return to the tournament, after an absence of more than five years, when they took on Ikapa Sporting. Avendale booked their spot in this year’s finals after finishing second in Group G of the qualifiers behind Khayelitsha’s Mighty United.

They did that in spectacular fashion, too, as they beat favourites and 2014 quarter-finalists Santos in the last match of the qualifiers in Gugulethu. They will look to reproduce that form if they plan to go far in this year’s tournament.

Speaking after their historic qualification to this year’s tournament, coach Kevin Botto said most of the credit should go to the players for playing with everything they had so that the side could qualify for their first premier cup in a long time. He described them as true soldiers.

“We knew we had to win our last match against Santos. They were also slight favourites because they were above us in the log going to the match. I told the players that I am only a coach and could only do so much. It was up to them to go out there and take us to Belhar and that’s what they did,” said Botto.

“The commitment the boys showed throughout the play-offs was amazing. They showed hunger and the fact that we qualified at the expense of teams like Santos and JL Zwane bears testimony to that,” he said.

Having said that, however, Botto was also quick to note that things would be even tougher in the tournament as the level of competition is much higher than in the qualifiers. Roger Clayton, the tournament’s media liaison officer agreed, saying it was also good to see teams like Stephanian Ottery back in the tournament after many years.

“We also have newcomers in the likes of Mighty United and Cape United making debuts. I wish them all the best,” he said.