Benny’s Sports Academy and Development returned to South Africa after a successful 2016 Danone Nations Cup World Final where they finished in 14th place overall with 32 countries competing. South Africa’s best finish since 2009 where they won the tournament.
Benny’s managed to finish second in their Group after beating South Korea 1 -0, Italy, the first all girls team to compete in the finals, 3 – 0 but losing to Indonesia 1 – 0.
The second round was tough with the team facing Brazil in their first top 16 game. After losing 1-0 they were fighting for position 9 – 16. Here they then faced a strong Tunisian team that were far bigger and stronger than our Limpopo boys. After an early goal the South Africans fought back hard but failed to get the ball past a very agile goalkeeper leaving the boys fighting for position 13 – 16.
The penultimate match of the tournament saw the South Africans running onto the field next to Uruguay, arguably the tallest boys in the 2016 world finals. They refused to let the height of their opponents intimidate them and they outplayed them completely winning 2-1 and progressing to meet Russia in their final match for 13-14th position. This game was played at the Stade de France.
After conceding an early goal South Africa fought hard and pulled one back to finish level 1 each. However the more composed European counterparts proved better in the penalty shootout and won it 3 – 1.
On their return to South Africa, Coach Mbishi Mokwena said that undoubtedly the game against Brazil was their toughest. “The world finals were also a learning experience and the way the Brazilians used the field was an eye opener and very interesting to watch. We were lucky to lose by such a narrow margin and our goalkeeper, Hulisani Mashau, had a cracker of a game,” he said. “We went back to the drawing board after that game and used Brazil’s tactic against Uruguay and it worked in our favour.”
It was the game against Italy that took the youngsters by surprise. “It was the first all girls team that has ever played at the world finals,” said Mbishi. “We had been warned that the girls were going to be taller and stronger than us, which was the case, and they were academy girls from the famous Italian Club, AS Roma, so we were expecting a tougher challenge which did not turn out to be the case. However, I have to admit there were a couple of girls that were exceptionally skilled on the ball. They showed us a few amazing shibobo’s that left our boys standing,” said the coach.
For youngster Chrisjones Dhava, being in France was an enlightening experience. “Paris is such an exciting city. Full of life and interesting sights to see. I loved it so much I would like to go and live there one day.
“The food was interesting,” said Dhava. “I think the French eat too many vegetables and I missed my traditional pap. But they have the best fish!”
Germany was the ultimate winner beating Japan 3 – 1 on penalties at the legendary Stade de France in Paris, with Spain beating Brazil 2 – 1 to finish the 3rd and 4th places respectively.
Both the German and Japanese teams were selected through a trial process meaning their teams comprised the top under-12 players in their respective countries. The same process was used to finalise many of the other teams as well. A far cry from the South African boys who play school soccer on a dusty soccer field in the rural Limpopo area, Vhembe. To have finished in 14th position was a great feat.
“When we showed other teams and the international media the video of our area, school and soccer field they had new respect for us and we always had other teams coming to watch our games and cheering for us,” said Mbishi.