By James Agberebi: South Africa U-20 women’s coach Maud Khumalo has expressed optimism that her players are battle ready to slug it out with Nigeria’s Falconets for one of Africa’s two tickets to this year’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France.
The 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup will run from 5 August to 24 August in France.
The Basetsana of South Africa (South Africa’s U-20 women’s team) will host the Falconets in the first-leg play-off round inside the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium on Saturday.
To get to the play-off stage, the Falconets who have participated in all eight editions of the competition which started in 2002 in Canada, overcame Tanzania and Morocco 9-0 and 6-2 on aggregate in the first and second rounds respectively.
South Africa, who have never qualified for the tournament before, brushed past Namibia and Burundi 9-0 and 5-2 respectively also.
“The mood in camp is very positive in the sense that the girls are relaxed,” Khumalo told South Africa Football Association (SAFA) official website.
“They are open minded and they know what they are up against. This is a challenge we need to face and they are ready for it.
“As a coach I need to take any form of pressure and make sure it doesn’t go through to the players. Some of them are young and have never played against Nigeria before. But it is a blessing in disguise because I have some of them who have played Nigeria before and they’ve grown within the game.
“It is a blessing in disguise like I said because before they play against Nigeria without knowing what they are up against. But now they know what they are up against and they are willing to give their best and also they are will to fight tooth and nail to get this spot to go to the World Cup. It is also for them to get to the world stage to get exposed. It is a lifetime opportunity for some players so they are going to give their best.”
She stated that mixing education and football has not in any way affected her players as they are focused on the task ahead.
“Pressure is always going to be there but it’s how you react to it,” she said. “Both education and football are very important. Education and football is what makes these players enjoy what they are doing. And congratulations to the matriculants, it shows they’ve got zeal to make things work.
“For me as a coach it was not easy but I managed to make them relax and make them see what is important. For now they are much more relaxed and their attention is okay and they are focused on what is ahead, they are ready to compete. There’s nothing like pressure coming from studying even though we have another player that is suppose to write her exam in the university. But she is in the right frame of mind (for the Nigeria game).
And on her confidence going into this weekend clash, she said: “In my team I have mental strength and teamwork. That will make us go through.”