Beyond Erica Park

MZOXOLO BUDAZA

Last year’s Metropolitan under-19 Premier Cup semi-finalists Old Mutual Academy fell a little short in this year’s tournament, going down 2-1 to Milano in the last 16.

Old Mutual came to this tournament with the sole aim of reproducing the from that saw them going all the way to the semi-finals of last year’s edition before losing 2-1 to eventual champions Glendene.

In the play-offs, they finished second in their group behind Stephanian Ottery, with six points from three matches. They looked good in Belhar too, as they didn’t have any problems qualifying for the knockout stages.

Mutual found themselves in Group H, alongside Zambia’s Zesco, 2014 finalists Mamelodi Sundowns and the Exciting Maties side.

To their credit, the Pinelands side didn’t get intimidated by the big-name opponents they came up against, topping the standings with five points after recording a win and two draws in their three group matches.

They had an ideal start to the tournament beating Maties 2-1, thanks to a brace by Cole Mitchell Solomon.

They went on to record goalless draws against both Zesco and Sundowns.

That was enough to see them going through to the last 16, where they came up against Grassy Park’s Milano United, another team that went all the way to last year’s semis.

As it has been the case in the matches between these two sides the match was highly tactical one. It was clear, form the beginning, that the two coaches had done their homework.

They have left no stone unturned in their preparations. There was nothing much that separated them as they proved evenly-matched in all departments.

And, as a result it was not surprising that the match had to go to extra-time. Milano, then, upped their game a little and went on to win 2-1.

Old Mutual’s tournament may have ended prematurely but, if what’s happening lower down in their age divisions is anything to go by, then they will continue challenging for top honours.

Just three days before the Premier Cup kicked off on Wednesday March 23, their under-13 side was flying the Mutual flag high at the Strandfontein under-13 tournament by the Sea in Mitchell’s Plain.

And, a solid performance between the sticks by goalkeeper Luciano Paulse saw them going all the way to the final, before going doing 4-3 on penalties to Maties.

Mutual conceded only three goals and scored 16 in seven matches in that competition.

Joshua Appels and Raheem Harris top-scored for Old Mutual, netting three times each.

Played over three days at Strandfontein Sports field and completed on Human Rights day Monday March 21, the tournament saw 32 teams battling it out for the top honours. And, there was no shortage of action for the fans who came in their numbers, as they witnessed a total of 220 goals being scored in the process.

Old Mutual had an impressive start to the competition beating Khayelitsha’s Fire Fighters 4-0 in their first group match. They seemed to take their feet off the accelerator in their second match, going down 2-0 to eventual group winners Grassy Park.

But, to their credit, Old Mutual bounced back strongly to beat Oregan Spurs 3-0 in their last group match to book a spot in the last 16. Played on Sunday afternoon, the last 16 match against All Stars proved to be one of Old Mutual’s toughest in the competition.

Stars’ disciplined defence frustrated their opponents’ free-scoring front runners and, as a result, Old Mutual couldn’t find the back of the net in regulation time.

The final score was 0-0 and the Pinelands side went on to win 3-1 on penalties.

They didn’t have any problems in their quarter-final match against Bayhill United, beating the Mitchell’s Plain side 8-0 to book their spot in the semis.

They came up against another uncompromising side in the form of Hellenic and the match lived up to expectations, with the two sides having a serious go at each other.

However, as it turned out, the two sides had a lot in common and, as a result, were evenly matched in all departments. They had to settle for a 1-all regulation time score. Old Mutual went on to win 3-2 on penalties to book their spot in the final against Maties.

The Stellenbosch side lost 2-1 to Fish Hoek in the 2014 final and had a lot to prove going to this tournament.

Played on Monday Human Rights day, the final between Old Mutual and Stellenbosch proved to be a tough affair with both sides having to dig deep in their reserves. Again, nothing separated the two sides as the match ended with the score at 0-0.

Having won two of their three knockout matches on penalties, Old Mutual seemed to have a slight advantage against Maties. Things, however, didn’t go their way this time around as the Stellenbosch side registered a 3-2 shoot-out victory, to be crowned champions.

Rusdi Harris, head of the Old Mutual Academy, said he was happy with his side’s performance, despite going down in the final.

“The boys were in good shape throughout this competition and showed good understanding of what we expected of them.

“We played a lot of friendlies ahead of this tournament and that helped a lot in terms of match fitness. Luciano was brilliant in goals, especially considering the fact that he is new in this team,” he said.

“Our team spirit was also excellent. There were matches in this tournament where we didn’t really play well but, despite that, were able to get the results.

“That shows that the players are already developing that winning mentality. I can already see that we are going somewhere with this team,” said Harris.