Pres­sure on U23s? Not with Kwanda in charge

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE - ROD­NEY REIN­ERS

SOUTH AFRICA’S na­tional Un­der-23 cap­tain Kwanda Mn­gonyama is con­fi­dent of fin­ish­ing in the top three at the con­ti­nen­tal Eight Na­tions tour­na­ment in Sene­gal, which will se­cure a spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The event kicks off in Dakar this af­ter­noon when the SA U23s take on hosts Sene­gal in Group A (kick-off 5pm, SA time). The other coun­tries in the group are Zam­bia and Tu­nisia, who the lo­cal lads will face on De­cem­ber 1 and 4 re­spec­tively.

Group B in­cludes Egypt, Al­ge­ria, Nige­ria and Mali, with the top three coun­tries at the com­pe­ti­tion qual­i­fy­ing for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Pres­sure? I guess there’s al­ways pres­sure… but we know what’s at stake, we know we have to de­liver our best. We have to make sure that we start the tour­na­ment on a pos­i­tive note, and that means making sure that we don’t slip up in the open­ing game against Sene­gal,” Mn­gonyama said.

Mn­gonyama is orig­i­nally from Dur­ban, where his early abil­ity as a top-class ju­nior de­fender at the Westville United Foot­ball Acad­emy saw him land a trans­fer to the youth struc­tures of big-spend­ing Pre­to­ria-based PSL club, Mamelodi Sun­downs.

But it was two sea­sons ago, while on loan to Wits in Johannesburg, that Mn­gonyama rose to promi­nence. At the ten­der age of 19, he an­chored the Stu­dents’ de­fence with aplomb. His ma­ture per­for­mances caught the eye and he was among the nom­i­nees for PSL Young Player of the Sea­son, al­though the award even­tu­ally went to cur­rent U23 team­mate Kea­gan Dolly.

Mn­gonyama then re­turned to his par­ent club Sun­downs, but with so many high-pro­file and ex­pe­ri­enced de­fend­ers around, he was again sent out on loan, this time to Mar­itzburg United.

And, last sea­son, Mn­gonyama was just out­stand­ing for the KwaZu­luNatal club. He won the club’s Player of the Sea­son and the Play­ers’ Player of the Sea­son awards, while he was also named as the Ned­bank Cup’s Young Player of the Tour­na­ment.

This sea­son, he re­mains on loan at Mar­itzburg and his per­for­mances have again been solid, re­li­able and ma­ture. Just 22, he’s cer­tainly the de­fen­sive fu­ture of Sun­downs (when he re­turns) and Bafana Bafana (as soon as he is pro­moted).

But that’s still to come. For now, Mn­gonyama is fo­cused on just one thing, and that is to get the U23s to the Olympics. “It’s a team game and we all have to bear the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the task ahead,” he said.

“As cap­tain and leader, my role is im­por­tant. But as a team, we know it won’t be easy, and we have to take it one game at a time. We can­not get too far ahead, we just have to keep grounded. The fo­cus is on qual­i­fy­ing for the Olympics, that is the ul­ti­mate goal.”

KWANDA MN­GONYAMA: Fo­cus is on Olympic qual­i­fi­ca­tion

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