All systems go for U18 Knockout Challenge

Safa-Cape Town president Bennett Bailey joins captains representing teams taking part in this weeks Cape Town leg of the Engen under-18 Knockout Challenge.

This year’s edition of the Engen under-18 Knockout Challenge kicks off at Langa Stadium on Friday July 26.

The three-day tournament, which features 16 teams from across the city, has new hosts this year.

Langa’s Wanderers FC replace Parow-based Vasco da Gama, who have hosted the Cape Town leg of the competition at Parow Park since 2015.

Hellenic are defending champions, having beaten Grassy Park United 2-1 in last year’s final. This year marks the 17th anniversary of the competition, which has been running since 2003. Winners of the Cape Town leg of the competition will take on champions of the other regions in the national champs of champs, later in the year.

It is the first time that Wanderers will host a major tournament and club chairman Eric Gum said the organisers considered a number of factors, including where the club is based and its contribution to the game, before choosing new hosts for different regional tournaments.

“I think the fact that our club and Langa LFA have, over the years, done a lot for football made it easy for them to choose us. When the announcement was made, we were shocked and excited at the same time,” said Gum, who is also chairman of the Langa LFA.

“This is a big tournament with many clubs taking part, from the play-offs up to this stage. We were anxious but will see how it unfolds.”

The draw has been done and, already, it looks like football fans will witness a number of interesting match ups. Group B might just be the group to watch.

Defending champions Hellenic are up against Ajax Cape Town, Cape Umoya and FN Rangers. With that line up, the group deserves to be called the Group of Death.

Group A is going to be a tricky one too, especially considering that it features some formidable sides. PSL newbies, Cape Town City’s juniors will battle it out with Ubuntu Football Academy, Ulana Academy and Wynberg St John’s.

Gum said the club and the LFA were ready to produce one of the best knockout challenge tournaments to date. He also noted that organising a tournament of this nature, for the first time, came with a number of challenges.

He said organising the play-offs was, logistically, the most difficult part of the whole process.

“But, thanks to other LFAs, who made their fields available, we got through that,” he said.

Gum, former Safa-Cape Town deputy president, said getting the rights to host this year’s tournament showed that their hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

“We are consistent in terms of building all structures of the club. We are a fully-fledged club with a fully-fledged second division team. We also have junior structures from under-12 up to under-18. On top of that, we put a lot of emphasis on the development of our coaches,” he said.

Two of the club’s coaches Thulani Skwaza and Masibulele Sukazi have CAF B coaching licences, which allow them to coach at any level.

“We are also one of a few amateur that have a goalkeeper coach. Sinethemba Ngamlana has been doing well with our goalkeepers.

“Maybe that explains why one of our former goalkeepers, Masizakhe Myataza, went on to win last season’s Nedbank Cup with TS Galaxy,” he said.

Gum said the club’s success was a result of a good working relationship between the management, the technical team and the players.

He said they try to apply the right attitude to any situation they face. This, he said, allowed them to look at things beyond the playing field.

“We try to develop the players to cope with challenges they face outside the field. It is not just the football player we are trying to develop.

“It is about developing human beings. To achieve all that, we have to be consistent in everything we do. Luckily, we have a strong management team,” said Gum.

The first games kick off at 2pm on Friday.

Groups, as drawn at the official launch, at the River Club in Observatory, last week, are:

Group A: Cape Town City, Ubuntu Football Academy, Ulana Academy, Wynberg St John’s

Group B: Hellenic, FN Rangers, Cape Umoya United, Ajax Cape Town.

Group C: Stellenbosch FC, Jomo’s Power, Everton, Hanover Park

Group D: Wanderers, Santos, Bayview, JL Zwane.