With Ghana, Nigeria and hosts Egypt the favourites from the African continent, South Africa will travel to this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup as underdogs. However, they have matured and seemingly turned a sharp corner following impressive recent performances. The South Africans will be eager to repeat their feat of 1997, when under the guidance of Shakes Mashaba, the side earned rave reviews. Unfortunately, this was the last time they made an appearance in the tournament.
Their gutsy performance at the recent CAF African Youth Championships will send a chilling reminder to opponents who might be quick to underestimate South Africa. They opened their campaign by beating highly-rated Côte d'Ivoire 1-0. They then won 2-1 against heavy favourites Nigeria, who had never been beaten by a South African side in a competitive match previously.However, the highlight of their campaign was arguably a brilliant fight back against eventual champions Ghana in the semi-finals, where South Africa came from three goals down to lose 4-3.
Serame Letsoaka is a well regarded youth coach in South Africa, credited with nurturing the nucleus of the nation's young talent. He has coached at all national team levels, with the exception of the U-23s and senior side. Letsoaka was the brains behind the team's success at the African Youth Championships, even though he had to cope with a seriously depleted squad.
Blessed with players who posses skill, creativity, mobility and speed, South Africa are potent up front and rely heavily on counter-attacks, utilising the flanks to launch most of their forward moves. The South Africans went to the African finals minus some of their key players, but they are now likely to come up with a full-strength squad for the Egyptian finals. Captain Ramahlwe Mphahlele has been impressive in the South African colours, as has Netherlands-based danger-man Kermit Erasmus. Phumelele Bhengu will be another player to watch in Egypt.
Egypt 2009 will be South Africa's first time back at a U-20 finals since 1997
U-20 COSAFA Championship winners (1999, 2000 and 2004)
CAF African Youth Championship runners-up (1997)
What they said...
"We are a good side and I don't doubt that. It's always good when we go to these tournaments as underdogs because we can therefore surprise people. In our team, we have exciting players and they will show the rest of the world what they are capable of," South Africa Coach Serame Letsoaka.