Newcomers aim to impress in knockouts

Southampton's Carlton Nicholas, right, tries to avoid the attention of Leiden Fusion Spurs' Alec van Rooyen during their Coca Cola Cup clash.

Like any other team going to this tournament, the rookies don’t want to leave any stone unturned as history has shown that ill-prepared teams get punished badly in this competition.

And coach Ismail Majiet made it clear that with the squad they have assembled and the way the players have been performing, going all the way to the quarter- finals was possible. This, he said, would be an achievement, especially considering that this is their first appearance in the competition.

He was also quick to note that they were not going to limit the players. “If going beyond the quarters is possible, we will keep pushing,” he said.

The Parkwood-based side qualified for the tournament after beating FC Milan 1-0 in the first round of qualifiers early this month and last year’s fourth-place finishers Hanover Park 2-1 in Blue Downs a fortnight ago.

Majiet said both games were tough and his players had to be industrious in their approach.

“We started off slowly in the first game and Milan tried to take the game to us. Our defence held on tightly and, as the match progressed, we slowly gained confidence and went on to win 1-0,” said Majiet.

Their encounter against Hanover Park, he said, was a completely different ball game as their opponents were more aggressive than the Milan side. Having gone all the way to the semi-finals last year, Hanover Park came to their match against Southampton as favourites.

To their credit, the Parkwood side didn’t let that intimidate them and showed little respect for their more fancied opponents. Playing with the wind on their backs, Southampton took full advantage of the situation and attacked from the first whistle. Hanover Park found themselves on the back foot and it soon became clear it was only a matter of time before they cracked.

Southampton eventually scored two quick goals, taking a 2-0 lead to the half time break. As expected, Hanover Park came back strongly in search of goals but their opponents’ defence stood firm. The usually nippy and street-smart Hanover Park players failed to navigate their way around the solid Southampton defensive wall. They managed to pull one back but, as it turned out, it was not enough and the Parkwood side held on for a 2-1 victory.

Majiet described the match as “a game of two halves” where both sides proved to be evenly matched.

“We did all the attacking in the first half, thanks to the wind on our backs. It was, however, their turn to attack in the second half which meant we had to be disciplined at the back,” he said.

Majiet said they were aware that that was just the beginning and the tournament proper will be even be tougher than the qualifiers.

If what happened last year, when Vasco da Gama hosted the tournament for the first time, was anything to go by then the fans can expect fireworks. The youngsters produced football of the highest quality, with the underdogs standing their ground.

For Southampton, they want make their mark in this year’s competition. They have the players with the right attitude and a never-say-die-spirit.

Majiet said the preparations for the tournament proper were getting better each day, as the coaches and players were working on certain aspects of the game.

“One of the biggest problems we had in the qualifiers was the number of players we had for matches. In the game against Hanover Park, for instance, we had a few players short and that caused a lot of problems for us. However, we were able to sort that out and the 14 year olds we’ve recruited have shown hunger and potential to do well in this competition,” he said.