Oh so close for Ulana juniors

Ulana Academy's under-13 captain Yiva Ulana carries the ball upfield.

Inspired by their influential captain, Yiva Ulana, Khayelitsha’s Ulana Academy proved to be one of the best side’s in this year’s Strandfontein under-13 Tournament by the Sea, going all the way to the final before losing 1-0 to Milano United, at Ikamva in Parow at the weekend.

The side’s technical team understandably felt they were unlucky to lose in the final, as the referee made some questionable offside decisions against them.

Their route to the final, however, was accident free as they overcame every obstacle on their way, winning some matches with big margins.

Playing in their second Strandfontein tournament, Ulana proved too good for their Group G opponents Morgenster United and Red Rovers, winning both their matches to qualify for the knockout stages. They topped the group with six points, scoring five goals without conceding.

They made their intentions clear in their first game of the campaign, beating Morgenster United 1-0. They were even more clinical in their next match as goals from Jayden-Lee Stevens, Yiva, Zairon van Wyk and Sihle Sawana saw them beating Red Rovers 4-0.

That victory saw them setting a semi-final date with hosts Strandfontein’s A side. Ulana was clearly on a mission and not even the hosts were going to stop them.

They went on to win 2-1 to book a semi-final spot against MPCE Academy. The Mitchell’s Plain side provided some resistance but, once again, Ulana proved too good, winning 2-1 to book a spot in the final before losing 1-0 to Milano.

The young Yiva was, without a doubt, one of the tournament’s standout players, as he controlled things in the middle of the park.

His vision, anticipation, and defence-splitting passes were what football fanatics call “top drawer stuff”. He also packed a powerful right foot, which explains why he took all the set pieces for his side.

Yiva was, however, not alone as the whole team performed well. He was especially well supported by equally industrious players such as Vuyisile Jongilana, Jayden-Lee and Akhanyile Norhawa.

Yiva said they went to the tournament knowing that the opposition would come at them, and had to treat each match like a cup final.

“We didn’t want to take any team for granted, which meant we had to prepare well for each game and concentrate all the time. On the field, we made sure we played for each other and that helped a lot,” he said.

Coach Khaka Mbambo said their plan was to revolve their game around Yiva, as he was the most experienced member of the side.

“He has been around and also understands what’s expected of him and the team.

“He brings in a lot of experience which rubs off to his teammates,” said Mbambo.

Mbambo also noted that his side exceeded expectations, especially considering that it was only their second time taking part in this competition. Last year they lost in the last round of 16.

“Last year’s competition was more about exposure than anything else, so we were more prepared this time around. We took each game as it came and the players’ confidence grew as the competition progressed.”