Johannesburg - The South African national Under-20 soccer team will be hoping to go further than previous teams at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in South Korea in May.
The two previous teams failed to get out of the group stages in 1999 and 2009 and coach Thabo Senong will want to create his own history and not just be there to add to the numbers.
Until now, Ghana have been the only team from Africa to have won the tournament, in the 2009 World Cup in Egypt, but this year’s edition will give the continent’s four representatives – South Africa, Zambia, Senegal and Guinea – a chance to change that.
South America lead the standings with 11 titles shared between Argentina and Brazil, which have six and five, respectively, while Europe has eight championships in the bag, shared by six countries.
Three confederations – Asia, Oceania and Concacaf – have still not tasted glory.
However, the Korea tournament will give other countries a chance to add their names to the trophy, particularly as Brazil will be absent from the event.
But it is also a chance for young players to market themselves to the top teams, whose scouts will surely grace the event.
The tournament has helped launch the careers of players who have gone on to make their names on the international stage.
Argentina’s Diego Maradona, one of the best players to grace the planet, who won the Golden Ball for best player in the 1979 tournament in Japan, went on to become the legend he is today.
His countrymen – Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero – introduced themselves to the global arena at the same showpiece when they won the 2005 and 2007 best player awards in Holland and Canada, respectively.
That was the last time Argentina won this tournament.
One of our continent’s best players, Mali’s Seydou Keita, also shone at this showpiece when he won the Golden Ball in 1999.
And who could forget Paul Pogba’s heroics in 2013 when he helped France lift the championship in Turkey?
He went on to become the world’s most expensive player after Manchester United forked out about R1.4 billion for his signature from Juventus.
Now it is the turn of South Africa’s players to take the football world by storm.
The likes of Phakamani Mahlambi and Luther Singh will be out to impress and catch the eyes of European scouts.
Mahlambi, in particular, will try to atone for losing out on the Rio Olympic Games, which he missed because he was recovering from a knee injury.
Round of matches
Standing in Amajita’s way will be perennial qualifiers Japan, Italy and Uruguay. But with the kind of talent in the Amajita team, getting out of the group stages should not be hard to achieve.
Hosts South Korea will take on Guinea in the opening match on May 20, with Group A also including England and Argentina in what is a mouth-watering group.
Other standout games from the first round of matches include Confederation of African Football Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations title-holders Zambia taking on two-time World Cup winners Portugal.