COMMENT: What went wrong for South Africa at 2019 Fifa U20 World Cup

Amajita ended their U20 World Cup Group F campaign with a poor record - two defeats and one draw, and Goal takes a look at what went wrong for them

South Africa's hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the ongoing 2019 Fifa Under-20 World Cup finals in Poland were crushed on Friday evening.

Amajita had to defeat Portugal by a huge margin and hope for Argentina to beat the Korea Republic in the other match in order to reach the Last 16. 

However, the two teams bowed out of the competition after drawing 1-1 in the Polish city of Bielsko-Biała with Thabiso Monyane scoring Amajita's third goal at the tournament.

It is time to reflect on what went wrong for South Africa, who came into the global showpiece with high ambitions.

South Africa, Thabo Senong

Coach Thabo Senong's team selection raised a few eyebrows as he benched players like Khanya Leshabela, Leo Thethani and Lyle Foster, who all ply their trade abroad.

The nation expected Senong to build the team around these players, simply because they are already exposed to international football. 

Ajax Amsterdam forward Thethani caused trouble to the Argentina defence after being introduced and he won a penalty which was converted by AS Monaco striker Foster, while Leicester City's Leshabane watched on as an unused substitute in the opening match.

Against the Korea Republic, Leshabane was again ignored by Senong, while Foster was only introduced in the 68th minute with South Africa losing 1-0. 

Senong opted for players, who play in the local Multichoice Diski Challenge (MDC) which could be the reason for Amajita's failure to make it past the group stages.


Local-based players such as Keenan Phillips, who was sent off after making an unnecessary challenge, Givemore Khupe, Njabulo Blom and Keenan Abrahams showed that they suffered from stage fright, especially in the opening game against Argentina where the team was also tactically poor.

As a result, Senong's men conceded five goals against a ruthless Argentine side and the defeat seemed to set the tone for South Africa at the tournament as they looked like a team which would struggle to secure a win in the competition.

Scoring goals was also a major problem with Senong deciding to bench his best striker Foster against the Korea Republic and Portugal - their only goal came from the spot-kick which was converted by his former Orlando Pirates team-mate Monyane.

South Africa U20

It was quite clear that Amajita stood a chance to at least get a draw from the game against the Korea Republic had they taken their chances.

Perhaps Senong's charges would have done much better had the technical team fielded their strongest possible line-up instead of opting for a more cautious approach. 

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This would have put the team in a good position heading into the final game against Portugal needing a victory in order to progress to the round of 16.
It is time for South African development to have a serious introspection as high expectations at global youth tournaments cause players to make silly mistakes.

The stage is clearly too big for the majority of SA players at junior levels, and perhaps it's time for these players to be prepared at a very young age in order for our junior teams to be competitive.  

This has been evident as South Africa's youth teams have qualified for the U17 and U20 World Cup finals in recent years, but they failed to get past the group stages - because of the superiority of the opponents in terms of maturity and experience.