THE national under 17 football team coach, Halemakale Mahlaha, says qualifying for the Under 17 World Cup is a far-fetched dream for his charges as they are still in the building phase.
Mahlaha was speaking to the Sunday Express recently said his charges have begun their preparations for the COSAFA tournament that will be played from 19 to 29 July 2018. The tournament that will be hosted by Mauritius will see 12 countries competing from the group stages to the final.
The tournament will be used as qualifiers for the under 17 Africa Cup of Nations to be staged in Tanzania next year. In turn, the Africa Cup of Nations will also be used as the qualifiers for the forthcoming youth World Cup in 2019.
Bahlabani, as the national side is affectionately, known is in Group B alongside the defending champions Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.
Group A is made up of the hosts Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia and Seychelles while Angola, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are in Group C.
Mahlaha said this is a completely new team that is made up of players who have just graduated from the school of excellence so they will not put them under pressure with unrealistic targets.
A group of students from around the country were last year grouped in four regions for mini-tournaments and eventually teams from South Africa and these have been referred to as the school of excellence.
“We have started our preparations for the tournament this week and we have a provisional squad of 30 players but we will trim them to 20 later on,” said Mahlaha.
“The team is dominated by players from the school of excellence who graduated late last year and most of them are just 15 years old so we want to avoid giving them pressure since this is a building phase.
“We have to take one step at a time and see where that will take us. Firstly we need to advance from the group stages and that is not going to be an easy task for us, let alone thinking about the World Cup.”
He said they intend to first give the players exposure through the tournament before they can start thinking about competing with the rest of the world.
“We are building for the future so it is important for the players to get exposure first at the regional level then we can start thinking about challenging the rest of the world.
“Remember this is their first time on the COSAFA platform and they are still learning,” Mahlaha said.
However, Mahlaha said it will be a bonus if the team performs well.
“Even though we are still learning, we cannot afford to be complacent and get our eyes off the ball.
“We still want to win because at the end of the day, every coach is judged based by results and I still expect them to work hard,” Mahlaha said.