Former Bafana Bafana international and Amajita interim head coach Helman “Midnight Express” Mkhalele says his priority is to defend the COSAFA U20 trophy in Lusaka, Zambia, in the next two weeks.
Mkhalele will leave on Tuesday with the newly assembled South African U20 national team as they aim to defend a tournament they’ve dominated for the past two years.
Mkhalele, who is eyeing for a permanent contract as Amajita head coach, is going to Zambia without a mandate from SAFA, but knows very well what would be the expectations.
The former international joined the Amajita set-up just before the 2017 AFCON tournament in Zambia and helped the then Thabo Senong to qualify to the FIFA U20 World Cup in South Korea the same year.
They’ve went on to win the past two editions of the COSAFA editions, qualified for the U20 World Cup again earlier this year in Poland after returning with a bronze medal at the U20 AFCON in Niger.
The former Orlando Pirates speedy winger is banking on this experience to carry him and his team through.
Amajita have been drawn in Group B at the competition in Zambia and open their campaign against Mauritius on Thursday for the tournament which will finish on the 14th of this month.
They will then face Madagascar three days later and wrap up their round robin stage against neighbours against Lesotho on the 10th.
The three group winners plus the best placed runners-up will advance to the semi-finals. Mkhalele knows the pressure that comes with being the defending champions.
In the past two editions of this regional competition, Amajita have had a good group of players who have set African football alight, the likes of Lyle Foster, Grant Magerman, Promise Mkhuma, Mondli Mpoto, Khulekani Khubeka, Thabo Monyane.
These players played at the World Cup in Poland and now star in PSL teams and also in Europe. And some of them qualified to the Olympics after winning the bronze medal at the AFCON U23 in Egypt recently.
Mkhalele is starting a new U20 team but there’s already continuity with some players from the current group progressing from the U17 team of current Bafana Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki. Ubuntu FC holding midfielder wants to make full use of this opportunity.
Another member of the 2018 AFCON U17 zonal qualifiers in Mauritius where Amajimbos finished as runners-up losing to Angola in the final in Mauritius is Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Bontle Molefe.
Since that tournament, there’s been a lot of progressing in his football career, he commands a regular spot in the Amakhosi reserve team and is also training with the first team and registered for the PSL squad.
Mkhalele will be counting on players like Molefe (16) who have tournament experience to guide the new national team players. – Report by Velile Mnyandu