Old makes way for young in Beach Soccer

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Coach Lindani Shezi on Thursday announced 20-year-old Lowell Kinsey as the captain of the South African team that will be taking on Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Egypt, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast and Mozambique in the qualifying tournament from Tuesday to next Sunday.

Teenager Siyabonga Mbatha will be the vice-captain. Kinsey will captain a team that has an average age of just under 21, and if you take out the two “old men” of the team – 27-year-old Philani Gumede and 25-year-old Fani Shange – the average age drops to less than 20.

This will be the third year South Africa hosts the qualifier and the third time the team attempts to qualify and there has been an obvious shift in focus from Safa on team selection.

Gone are old, big-name players such as Mark Williams, Mark Fish, Gary Johnson, Gary McNab and Mark Batchelor who at various times given the team a backbone of old heads in previous beach soccer tournaments. They have been replaced by a quartet of young players who in some cases are half their age.

The four new caps to the squad are goalkeeper Siyabonga Mbambo (21 years old), defender Muzi Mbambo (18) and strikers Bandile Lekela (21) and Ricardo Francisco (19).

Francisco was selected for the 2005 World Cup which South Africa attended as an invited team, but he never played. Ironically Francisco is in a race to recover from a tendon strain and should the injury not heal in time he could miss out once again.

But, while the experienced stars have been kept out of the side, the remaining young players have all experienced the pressures of a World Cup qualifying tournament, either last year when Williams was coaching the squad, or the previous year when Brazilian coaching guru Marcelo Mendes was in charge.

Eight of the 12 players have represented South African in previous qualifying campaigns and for some this will be their third attempt to reach the finals.

Both Kinsey and vice-captain Mbatha were confident the team could go a step further than the 2006 and 2007 squads and earn a trip to the World Cup in July.

“The team is coming together well and I am confident we will be able to qualify,” said the newly appointed captain. Mbatha said there was a very different and encouraging dynamic in the squad without the older players.

“Without the older experienced players we are not looking to them for guidance the whole time,” said the 19-year-old. “The team has gelled very well and we are closer as a unit.

The full SA team is:Goalkeepers: Siyabonga Mbatha (vice captain), Siyabonga Mbambo.Defenders: Lowell Kinsey (captain), Fani Shange, Prince Gumede, Siyabonga Dlamini, Muzi Mbambo.Forwards: Philani Gumede, Bandile Lekela, Ricardo Francisco, Thambo Mthembu, Siyabonga Mtetha