The Fort Hare men’s football team, the newly-crowned Alice football League Cup champions, continued their fine run of form to finish third in the Charity Cup at Bunkers Hill in East London at the weekend.
Captain Bonke Nxiwa would have been proud of the way his teammates bounced back from a disappointing semi-final loss against Mubs.
Inspired by their vice-chancellor, they regrouped to defeat the Attackers 4-2 in a penalty shootout in the playoff for third.
The 25-year-old centre back said the tournament, which drew top teams from the Border region, proved to be highly competitive.
“It reminded me of the USSA competition, which always has a very strong field. It was good for us to experience such competitive matches in the Eastern Cape,” said Nxiwa.
The skipper lauded his team’s defence during the tournament as it had played a major role in their march to the semis.
“Our work in defence was very solid,” he said.
The team’s defensive line features several players “with good height” and they were able to win possession in many of the aerial battles.
Goalkeeper Lihle Vathu, 22, also proved vital in the defensive effort and often saved the day in one-on-one situations.
Nxiwa admitted to the final result being “bitter-sweet” as it had dulled the pain of not reaching the final.
“Before our last match, I asked the team to produce their best effort as we wanted to show our vice-chancellor that we have achieved something. The boys demonstrated great character to rise above the disappointment.”
Fort Hare suffered an early setback when they lost 3-0 to the experienced Valencia side but bounced back with two fine victories in their remaining group matches, defeating House of Décor 4-0 and Brylin 1-0.
Their efforts saw them qualify for the last 16 knockout stage, where they defeated Soma 1-0 in the first game.
In the round of eight, they beat ABC Motsepe League’s Relatives on penalties (4-2), before stumbling against Mubs in the last four.
The students’ best performance was arguably against the fancied Relatives. Despite missing several chances during normal play, they continued landing punches while taking a few on the chin as well.
“We showed our character by fighting until the final whistle and going on to take the penalty shootout,” said Nxiwa.
The University of Fort Hare captain said all in all they had achieved their goal of gaining experience against top-class opposition.
“For instance, this will help us when we play in the USSA championship [in December], which serves as a qualifying tournament for Varsity Football.”
He was confident of continued improvement and thanked the coaching staff for the trust shown in him to lead “a wonderful team”.