The SAB Under 21 National Championships reach the business end on Thursday, Day 3 of the competition held at the Clive Solomon Stadium in Bloemfontein. Six provices will have to pack their bags at the end of the day as they would have been eliminated from the tournament. Nine provinces, and an additional team, the University Sports South Africa.
(USSA) make up the participants of the week-long tournament which comes to an end on Saturday. Limpopo could have booked their place in Friday's semi-final stage had they defeated hosts Free State. But the home side emerged one nil victors in a hard-fought clash watched by Serame Letsoaka, the newly-appointed South African Football Association Technical Director and also coach of the national Under 20 side Amajita.
The result left Limpopo top of Group A with seven points, just one ahead of Free State - but the hosts have one match in hand, against an inconsistent Kwazulu Natal. The KZN side was walloped 5-1 by the USSA who managed to earn their first three points of the competition. How things change as on Tuesday KZN won 11-nil against Eastern Cape who are now third with just four points - three behind the leaders. In their final group match, Eastern Cape face the USSA - and both sides could still sneak into the semi-final. Limpopo, who have already competed their group stage matches, will be watching with keen interest as both Free State and Eastern Cape pose a serious threat for a place in the last four. With seven points at the top of the table, no side can unseat Limpopo except in the event that KZN beat Free State. Victory for the hosts will ensure automatic passage into the semis for Limpopo.
If you thought Group A was tight, Group B is even more closely contested. Four teams in this stream have an almost equal chance of progressing to the last four. One between log leaders Gauteng, second-placed Northern Cape, Western Cape as well as Northern Cape are all within touching distance of the next round. The top three are sitting on six points each while North West and Mpumalanga are struggling on three points each. But Mpumalanga is the first side to be eliminated after they finished the group stage with three losses and just one victory. Gauteng consolidated their top spot following a thrill-a-minute 3-2 win against Mpumalanga in the cool evening of Bloemfontein. The match was meant to be played at one, but had to be moved to four hours later after Gauteng failed to produce player cards.
Gauteng took the lead before Mpumalanga equalised and turned the tables with a 2-1 lead. But with their never-say-die spirit, Gauteng restored parity midway through the second half before finding the winner late in the match - giving them pole position in Group B. Gauteng face a North West side that desperately needs a win to have any chance of proceeding to the semis, while in the other Group B clash it's the battle of the Capes - Western and Northern.
Eastern Cape in Group A and Mpumalanga in Group B have the worst defence having let in 14 goals and eleven respectively. Ironically Mpumalanga has the second-best scoring rate with eight goals in the tournament - four behind Kwazulu Natal who have scored a total of 12, next best is Limpopo with seven strikes.
SAB U21- National Championship, Bloemfontein 13th - 18th April 2009