Zwane unable to reclaim former glory

JL Zwane's Sinawo Topi fends off his Fish Hoek FC marker at the weekend.

A lot was expected from the side after they found themselves in Group A alongside Fish Hoek FC, Atlantic Nacional and Hanover Park.

The high expectations were, of course, not unfounded as the side have developed a reputation for being one of the best in this age division, especially after going all the way to the final before losing 1-0 to Glendene United, two years ago.

Inspired by midfield maestro Mihlali Mabhuti Mayambela, who walked away with player of the tournament award, and coach Thando Sodinga, who was named coach of the tournament, the side, playing in their maiden Premier Cup tournament, took everyone by surprise as they beat more fancied sides, including the visiting UK team Swansea, in their march to the final.

They have, since then, been playing consistently well as Sodinga and his technical team were able to replace one generation of good players with another following their 2015 performance.

Things, however, didn’t go according to plan in Mitchell’s Plain at the weekend.

They finished third in their group after collecting four points, three behind group winners Fish Hoek and one behind second placed Atlantic Nacional, after winning one, drawing one and losing one of their three matches. It was simply not enough to secure entry to the tournament proper.

They had a slow start to the round, drawing 1-all with Nacional on Saturday. However, to their credit, the Nyanga side bounced back strongly to beat Hanover Park 2-0. That’s when most thought the side was on a verge of qualifying for their second-ever Premier Cup finals.

That, however, was not going to be as Fish Hoek players proved to have other ideas, beating them 1-0 in a tightly contested match.

Coach Sodinga said, as much as he was disappointed, he was still satisfied with the way his players played in the qualifiers.

He said a number of off-the-field-happenings affected the way his players played in this round of qualifiers.

“I know this is not an excuse but it did distract our players. Other teams, some in the PSL, started contacting our players outside the club channels in an attempt to acquire their services. However, we tried to find ways to work around those problems and the players did well. As much as we prepared well for the competition, playing two games in one day was always going to demand a lot from the players,”he said.

“We started slowly against a strong Nacional side which had experience Vodacom league players. We then changed our strategy against Hanover Park and were, in the end, able to beat them convincingly. In our last game against Fish Hoek the boys did well but luck was just not on our side. In fact, Fish Hoek used their height advantage, hence the goal they scored came from a set play,”he said.

Looking ahead, Sodinga made it clear that failure to qualify for the tournament was by no means the end of the road for this side. This, he said, was because the players – thanks to their age – still have a lot to offer.

“Players’ development is very important and that is why we will make sure we take care of this group of players. It is not going to be easy because each time we groom a good a player, a bigger team comes in and snatch him. But, having said that, we are not going to stop grooming these players,” said Sodinga.