Milano United’s under-17 side will shift focus back to their league and knockout cup, after they were eliminated in the quarter-final of the Engen Knockout Challenge by Ajax Cape Town, at the weekend.
The Grassy Park-based team were drawn into Group A of the tournament alongside last year’s finalist, Atlantic Nacional, hosts Vasco da Gama and Jordan Callies from Manenberg.
Head coach Byron Hendricks – a former Santos and Maritzburg United Premier Soccer League (PSL) player – assembled a talented group of youngsters who excelled on the big stage.
The Kinnes kicked off the tournament with a bang on the A-field against Nacional, when attacker Chadley Richards hammered the ball past last year’s goalkeeper of the tournament, Abdud-Daiyaan Abrahams, in the second minute of the game.
Their high tempo game and work ethic did not go unnoticed and their performance against Nacional made them early favourites.
“For every game we prepare the same way.
“We don’t change our playing style according to who we are playing.
“Nacional were finalists last year but we approached them the same way as any other team,” said Hendricks.
“We always try to put our teams under pressure from the first minute, and that’s how we got the early goal.
“Obviously you can’t do this throughout the game, but just to get our opponents unsettled and not allowing them to play their game,” he said.
Milano beat Nacional 3-0 before playing to a goalless draw against Vasco, later in the day.
On Saturday, they thrashed Jordan Callies 8-1 – in the highest scoring game at the tournament – to top Group A, and played last year’s champions Ajax in the quarters.
“Against Vasco, again we created a lot of goal scoring opportunities but for some reason we just couldn’t score.
“I can’t explain what went wrong with the final pass. There was probably something in front of the goal posts that the players were afraid of, because no one wanted to score.
“In the first half we should have been three or four goals up, and in the second half they caught us on two breaks and could have easily beaten us as well.
“I think the boys were also a bit nervous because you could see they were not themselves,” said Hendricks.
“We overpowered Jordan Callies and I think it was good that we got them in our final group game.
“We didn’t know much about them and did not underestimate them, so we fielded a strong team. That win was a confidence booster going into the Ajax game,” he said.
Hendricks said that his side’s creativity and their ability to produce goal scoring opportunities are some of their best qualities.
And, in their clash against the Urban Warriors, the Kinnes used these strengths along with their physicality to keep Ajax on the back foot during the first half of their clash.
However, Ajax playmaker, Sonwabile Mfecane – who was named the player of the tournament – unlocked the Milano defence with a goal from 25-yards out.
And, Riyaaz Koopstadt got their second goal to earn Ajax a 2-0 win.
“I think in the first half we did very well against Ajax.
“We dominated them and just couldn’t convert on the few occasions that we had. We knew Ajax would play from the back so we allowed them to do that.
“But I think our players ran out of steam in the second half because of fatigue and that killed us.
“It was just a lapse in concentration and Ajax got their opening goal,” said Hendricks.
“We knew their number 10 was one of their danger players and we planned around that. His goal hit the wind out of us because going into the second half, the boys legs were already giving in.
“At half time I told them to just keep playing and keep taking the game to Ajax.
“As a whole, I think the team did very well – we fielded a few younger players and they also did a great job. I’m really proud of them and how they performed,” he said.
On Sunday, Milano finished their Knockout Challenge campaign against Avendale Athletico. They played to a goalless draw, and lost 8-7 to Avendale on penalties.
“I think tournaments have been a bogey for Milano. This is our second time where we got caught in the quarter-finals – the other time being in the under-19 Premier Cup.
“For future tournaments we should plan a bit better. We need to start looking at nutrition because some of the players are not eating right.
“If we can sort this out then it can definitely help us because you play more than one game a day over a couple of days,” he said.
Besides being in the running for the under-18 league title in the Mitchell’s Plain Local Football Association (LFA) and the Knockout Cup, they are still contenders for the Coke Cup and are through to the last-32.
“It’s our first season in the Mitchell’s Plain LFA, and we currently second on the log behind Bayhill United. Stanturf United and Bayhill are our closest rivals at the moment and they’ve been the only teams who have pushed us,” said Hendricks.
“I think with the structures taking shape nicely at the club, the Knockout Challenge was a good stepping stone for the players.
“They have an opportunity whereby their performances can get them into the club’s second division team or into the national first division (NFD) team.
“We will regroup and work on our mistakes because the core of this squad will be used for next year’s under-19 Premier Cup,” he said.