Cape Town - Mamelodi Sundowns' coach Alex Bapela says they didn’t expect to reach the MultiChoice Diski Challenge finals when they started and he considers finishing second as an achievement on its own.
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The young Brazilians lost 2-1 to University of Pretoria on penalties after their thrilling final encounter finished 2-2.
“It was a very good match and Sundowns played very, very, very well. I’m so proud of these boys, they played good football," he told supersport.com.
Sundowns got the equaliser seven minutes after Tuks took the lead in the 13th minute. But the clash then failed to produce any goals until extra time.
“Tukkies came into the pitch not really to play, but they came there to defend. Unfortunately they got the goal but they couldn’t protect it and we scored. After we scored, they were just sitting back lifting the balls high in the sky, so it was difficult for the boys to go score there.
Bapela also feels that they had enough chances to win the tie in regulation time and avoid facing the dreaded penalty shootouts.
“We got enough chances to try score and finish the game in 90 minutes. Remember this boy Mpumi Hlatshwayo, he got, I don’t even know if I have to call it a chance because it was just him two metres away from the goal line just to take the ball over the line. But somehow he missed it.
“If you consider that as a chance, then he should have scored it and they were not going to come back," he continued.
The penalties were dominated by missed attempts with only three successful kicks out of ten, something Bapela attributes to the nerves overcoming the players.
“The goalkeeper where good eh, but we knew that. We saw this boy (Legogang Ngubeni) when they were playing against SuperSport United, he’s so good, he’s so quick. And our goalkeeper was also good.
“But then I think the experience of our boys let us down because our boys are very young. Taking penalties in a game of that magnitude was just too much for them.
The coach also explained the reason behind giving one of the spot-kicks to Babile, who only made his debut in the quarterfinals after getting promoted from the under-17s.
“He is the best penalty taker, I can give him a penalty any day and he will score. But on the day it didn’t happen. You know a penalty is a penalty there is no guarantee, so he missed it. And as soon as he missed it, I knew that we were in for a tough penalty taking. Because if he doesn’t score, he doesn’t give us confidence to take.
“Even the way they took them, it was not the way I put them to take the penalties but after he missed I think the other players chickened out. That’s why the senior boys went to take them," Bapela revealed.
'It was an achievement'
The coach was asked if finishing second in competition was what they aimed for when they started.
“Honestly speaking, when we start I didn’t know what to expect but I was not expecting to go far. And I don’t think there is anybody at Sundowns who expected this team to go far but then as far as we went to the finals, it was achievement on it’s own.
“It’s just that if you are at Sundowns there is always pressure for winning that is why we feel let down after we didn’t win. But at the beginning of the tournament nobody expected us to go that far," continued the club's legend.
Bapela stressed that the Diski Challenge was a huge success in it's debut season.
“It was a success because if you look at most of the players who played in this tournament, today are playing in their senior teams and others are in the under-20s. Two of our players who started in the Diski Challenge are with the under-20s and most senior players are in the first team.
“Even though we had the senior team before but they were not recognised that much but after playing in the MDC like our Siyanda Zwane, he started playing in the senior team and every game he played man-of-the-match winning performance."
The coach further revealed he hasn't set down with the players to get their views and find out how they took the defeat.
“I don’t know (how the handled the loss), I still have to sit them down and hear their side of the story. Because I don’t like engaging players when they are still emotional and all the tempers are still high, because you never know what you get. But I think now they cooled down and then they can thing straight. I think we can get something out of them now," concluded the former midfield maestro.