Pressure on U23s? Not with Kwanda in charge
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