©Nokwanda ZondiAuthor: Erica MathyeIn what was supposed to be a season where the Diski Team players acquaint themselves with each other, they challenged for the league honours and narrowly missed on winning the League title.Young in years but unburdened by the pressure, this season’s cohort of U21s was eager to march to glory by any means. Of course, it was not going to be a walk in the park, but the fervor to be named the second group in the Club’s history to win the DStv Diski Challenge was evident in the manner they moved on the pitch.

Albeit missing the title by just one point, the Brazilians fought until the very end, giving football lovers an exciting title race in the Reserve League. They completed the season with 20 wins and were the team with the least number of defeats with just four. Furthermore, they were the side that had the most clean sheets, with 15 in 30 games.
© Samuel ShivambuLooking back on what was a mouth-watering season for Masandawana, Coach Themba Badela said his charges had a memorable season.
© Samuel Shivambu“I thought we had a fantastic season. We didn’t start too well as we began with two draws. We had a completely new team and we had to get the combinations right and bring players from the academy, who did very well at the Engen Cup. Once we started to get going and understand each other, things got better. Overall, I would say it was a good season where we managed to give the young players enough minutes and for them to also be ready to fight for a place in the First Team.”

The ascent of Masandawana week in and week out, caught the attention of Coach Rulani Mokwena, which saw him awarding a few of the Diski Team players game time in the First Team. Some of the players received national recognition which according to the Sterkspruit-born tactician, are some of the inspiring aspects that make the players yearn to become better in their performances.
© Sydney Mahlangu“As a coach of the U21s, you become happy when you see players receive call-ups to the senior team and get minutes. However, as we always emphasise, when given that chance, they need to seize it with both hands. This also inspires others in the group, as was evident when Keabetswe Ramotsei and Kutlwano Letlhaku made their debuts. Players like Matlhatsi Mapane and Thabo Nkabinde saw significant improvements in their performances, earning them national team call-ups, which created a buzz in the team. It showed the other players that it was possible for them to also get minutes in the First and National teams. Witnessing the players grow and seize opportunities to play at the First Team level is one of our biggest highlights,” he stated.
© Nokwanda ZondiNot only did the First Team give a few young Brazilians minutes, but they also allowed them to interact with their role models by training with them, which challenged them to want to become even better football players. Coach Themba expressed his gratitude to Coach Rulani for opening doors for the young men.

“The First Team often made things easy for us by opening doors and we can only be grateful to have the Diski Team as close as possible to them. That access boosted the confidence of the team, and we won 20 out of 30 games and registered some very impressive wins” he said. Having our team train with the senior players at times made a huge impact. One day they’d be training with a Rivaldo Coetzee and the next day with Denis Onyango. You can only get better when you train with such top international players,” he continued.

The relentless spirit saw the Diski Team keep the title race alive to the very last day of the season where they registered a dominant 6-0 victory over Moroka Swallows. The Diski Team head coach gave credence to the players for understanding that they are at a level where they have to play to win.
“It was the best way to finish the season, even though we would have liked to lift the trophy because I felt that we were so close. Credit must be given to the players. They are the ones who made sure that we went to the last game of the season having something to play for, which is what we have always told them. They know that we always play for something. They also drew inspiration from one of the titles the first team won where no one gave them a chance to win.”
© Samuel ShivambuAlthough this was not the fairytale ending they desired, the Sundowns reserve team can be proud of themselves. Their hard work, dedication, and impressive performances throughout the season are a testament to their talent and commitment. They have shown great potential and have laid a strong foundation to fight for the DStv Diski Challenge title next season.