This could be another year of the underdog

MZOXOLO BUDAZA

The draw for the 28th edition of the Metropolitan under-19 Premier Cup took place last night and the Cape qualifiers, including reigning champions Glendene United, now know who will they come up against when the tournament kicks off in Belhar over the Easter weekend. At the time of going to print the draw had not yet been finalised.

Mitchell’s Plain Clinic of Excellence (MPCE), Hellenic, Maties, Southampton, Stephanian Ottery, Old Mutual Academy, Beaufort West’s Juventus, Cape United, Greenwood Athletic, Project Playground (PPG) Langa, Milano United and Atlantic Nacional will join Glendene, hosts Bayhill United and Ajax Cape Town as the Cape’s representatives in this year’s competition.

As it has historically been the case in this tournament, these sides will lock horns with invited teams from around the country and beyond our borders.

Last year’s competition saw United Kingdom’s top flight side Swansea and Zambian outfit Zesco United taking part in the competition.

If what happened on the field of play in last year’s competition repeats itself, where underdogs showed little or not respect for their more fancied opponents, then 2016 should be an even better year for the poorer rated sides.

In fact, in this year’s qualifiers, the underdogs showed that they plan to continue with their giant-killing tendencies which is, in the end, what the game needs.

The playing field is slowly levelling and the matches are no longer predictable and one-sided, in favour of the so-called big guns.

One needs to look no further than teams like Southampton, who qualified at the expense of Vasco da Gama as well as Mighty United and Avendale Athletico who went though ahead of last year’s finalists JL Zwane and Santos to believe this.

There are among the sides that are threatening to make this another year of the underdog.

They have shown, in the play-offs, that they have the players and the right kind of attitude to beat anyone come Easter Weekend.

The so-called favourites should consider themselves warned because underestimating the so-called unknown teams will be suicidal.

And, 2014 champions Ajax will know better as they learnt, first hand, what the underdog is capable of doing.

The young Urban Warriors were unable to book a spot in last year’s knockout stages of the competition, thanks to the performance of then unknown PPG Langa side.

Now Glendene, as the defending champions, should be aware that they can’t make that mistake if they want to defend their title.

They were, after all, once that underdog that caused all sorts of problems for the big guns.

Their side is improving each year they take part in this competition. In 2014, for instance, Glendene had a decent tournament, going all the way to win the plate section.

They made it clear back then that their aim was to challenge for the title, come 2015. And that’s exactly what they did, winning last year’s edition.

Now, the pressure is on them to re-live the performance that saw them being one of the best-organised and most exciting sides in last year’s competition.

Coach Shakes Ntombana said their preparations were going well and the side was ready for the tournament.

“We have played a number of friendly matches, trying out different combinations and the players are responding well.

“We have a lot of young players in this squad and they have shown that hunger to do well for the team,” he said.

Ntombana said they were also aware that they will be a team to beat, come tournament time.

As a result of this, he said, they didn’t mind whoever they were drawn against as all the teams would be motivated to bring out their best performances to beat the champions.

“We just need to stick to our game plan and be as disciplined as possible in all departments,” he said.

“So far the players have responded well and are looking sharp,” he said.