Thabo Senong. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Thabo Senong. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

SA coach Thabo Senong was pleased with the bronze medal gained by his side at the 2019 African Under-20 Championships‚ but admits there is much work to be done before the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in Poland in May.

Amajita held Nigeria to a 0-0 draw and then won 5-3 on penalties in the third-place play-off on Saturday to secure their second-best finish in the continental finals after a silver medal in 1997.

“I’m happy for my boys because they won and we played against a very good team in Nigeria‚” Senong said.

“It was mission accomplished because we wanted to rotate the squad and gave some players caps‚ and we wanted to approach the game with a winning mentality because we saw this as preparation for the World Cup.”

Senong was missing several of his first-choice players‚ such as Monaco forward Lyle Foster and Utrecht playmaker Tashreeq Matthews‚ after they were not released by their clubs. It should not be an issue with the World Cup‚ for which clubs will be compelled to release players.

The coach now faces a fine balancing act in drafting those players back into the set-up with minimal opportunities for preparation matches.

“We will assess and continue to build a team going forward‚” he said.

“Our boys don’t have enough international experience. We need a lot of friendlies [before the World Cup]‚ between six and eight. That is the only way we can fast-track the right mentality and the right experience.

“We have a good team‚ but what is lacking is competitive friendlies‚ which we didn’t play before we came here [Nigeria]. We have played five quality matches in this tournament and we can only now look for more competition of this calibre to improve our team.”

Amajita will appear in a second successive Under-20 World Cup after also taking part in South Korea in 2017‚ when they exited in the first round.