Ikapa Sporting impresses in Premier Cup

KEAGAN MITCHELL

Ikapa Sporting FC, along with host club Bayhill United and MPCE were among the squads who flew the flag for Mitchell’s Plain, at this year’s under-19 Premier Cup.

Ikapa have been one of the stand out teams at this year’s contest and for their impressive performances they won team of the series.

They could have not asked for a better debut to the competition after they bowed out to a 3-0 semi-final defeat to Ajax Cape Town, at Erica Park, in Belhar, on Sunday.

Ikapa impressed in their quarter-final clash against fellow newcomers, Atlantic Nacional, to take the game 3-1.

With the score at 1-1 and penalties looming, Nacional coach Keith Paulse substituted goalkeeper Mikhail Dankers with Shaheen Abrahams, who is regarded as a better penalty stopper. Ikapa exploited that situation and took the game to Nacional’s third of the field. That paid off as they scored two quick goals in the dying minutes of the encounter.

Ikapa qualified for the competition as the under-19 champions of the Mitchell’s Plain Local Football Association last season. And, only one member of the league-winning side, Regan Joshua travelled to Belhar as the rest of the players were over-age. That resulted in coaching staff bringing in more youngsters, as well as guest players.

The boys from Mitchell’s Plain came into the competition as the underdogs after they were drawn in Group F alongside Bloemfontein Celtic, the University of Pretoria (Tuks) and Athlone-based Avendale Athletico.

They overcame that hurdle and surprised many, showing they are a force to be reckoned with. And that seemed to work in their favour, and proved to be their secret weapon, as their opponents seemed to underestimate them.

They started their campaign with a 1-all draw against Avendale Athletico, and then lost 1-0 to Tuks. In their final group game they beat the visitors from the Free State 2-0 to keep their dream alive.

They continued their fine run with a 1-0 victory over PPG Langa who they played twice leading up to the competition.In their final round-robin game against Bloemfontein Celtic, Ikapa Sporting started the brighter of the two sides as they created a number of chances. It finally paid off in the first quarter of the game as the goal came from open play for midfielder Matthew Snell to slot it in the net.

That goal gave them a world of confidence and in the second quarter they got a penalty but captain Craig Joemath missed it. In the second half they kept on pressing but the Bloemfontein Celtic Goalkeeper kept his side in the game. Late in the second half they finally got their second goal, through Jamie Webber.

Coach Justin Hamburger said it was important for them to get a victory because if they lost they would have ended last in our group.

He said that was the situation that they didn’t want to see themselves in, as it forced the players to play under a lot of pressure.

“We did not want to end our competition like that because it was our first time and we wanted to prove to ourselves and our fans that we deserve to be here.

“The first goal was incredible as it was a great build up from the team. It showed that our hard work has as paid off as we practised that at training. The goal in our opening encounter was a free kick scored by Craig, so to score from open play was a good sign,” he said.

Ikapa has certainly stepped up a gear from the opening game and coach Hamburger believes they are improving every match.

“We played well in the first two games but the results did not show. In the third game, against Celtic, we got a good result for the hard work and for the boys sticking together. We improved in the third game, played a better passing game, created more chances, more movement upfront and we are just shaping up well.

“The midfield was more organised and compact. Things game together and we got the result in the end. We need to be quicker when we have a ball as we got caught a few times against the boys’ in green and white.”

Hamburger said his young and inexperience side grew phenomenally in the tournament despite losing to Ajax in the semi-finals.

“They improved in every game and played some of the most attractive football. The players overshot expectations and showed they have immense potential for better things to come,” he said.