Under-18 tournament back in full swing

Engen under-18 tournament is back with first round of qualifiers taking place this Saturday at Turfhall Sport complex

One of the country’s biggest amateur football competitions is making a return to the Mother City this coming Saturday.

Turfhall stadium and Rygate sport complex will play hosts to the first round of the Engen Knockout Challenge Cup qualifiers, which for the first time will also include women’s teams.

A total of 96 under-18 teams will battle it out for the trophy currently held by Ubuntu Football Academy who were crowned national champions in 2019.

The tournament, now in its 14th edition, has become one of the most successful football development tournaments in the country with Bafana Bafana internationals such as Percy Tau and Keegan Dolly having made names for themselves in the contest.

As with all sporting activities last year, the tournament had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, the on-field action was replaced by a series of educational webinars for teams that were meant to take part in the competition. The sessions included equipping players with knowledge about healthy lifestyles, finances and career opportunities among other things.

Despite Covid-19 numbers continuing to rise, the organisers are confident that players will return to the pitch.

Dr Nasief van der Schyff, chairperson of Safa Cape Town’s Medical and Sports Science Committee, said there should be no cause for concern, as long as necessary precautions as prescribed by government and health authorities are implemented. “As long as all protocols are followed, football will continue,” he said.

While spectators will not be allowed inside venues where matches are played, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, fans may well get the opportunity to witness and enjoy some of the best skills from some of the country’s best juniors, should the organisers decide to live stream matches, as had been the case with club rugby and other sports events.

More than 250 teams across five regions, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg take part in this annual tournament with winners of the regions meeting each other in the national championship finals.

Cape Town will be hoping to once again produce a team that will emulate what Ubuntu Football Academy did two years ago when they were crowned the best under-18 side in the country.

Milano United FC, Rock’a fellas FC and Bonteheuwel FC are among the teams that will take part in the first round of the qualifiers this weekend.

Teams like Hanover Park, Steenberg and Grassy Park are among the squads that have a bye in the first round and will enter the tournament in the second round of qualifiers which take place in two weeks time.

Hanover Park were a semi finalist last time out when the tournament was held in Langa and will be hoping to go one better in this year’s edition.

Cape Town City, 2019 losing finalist, will be also among the teams looking to go an extra mile in this year’s competition.

The Citizens went toe-to-toe with Ubuntu last time out and were beaten on penalties after playing to a 1-all draw. On the other hand, Ubuntu, looking to defend the title, will be out to remind everyone that their dominance two years ago was no fluke.

Winning the Cape Town leg and going on to win the Champ of Champs, beating other regional winners, took Ubuntu juniors to the pinnacle of SA youth football and opened doors for their juniors to be noticed by the football community.

Their captain in their trophy-winning run, Munashe Garananga, went on to represent his home nation Zimbabwe in the under-20 side that competed in the Cosafa Cup last year, and was named man of the match in a match against Mozambique.

With this year’s edition, another opportunity awaits for some of Mzansi’s best talent to showcase their skills and possibly take their game to a professional level.