Ajax Cape Town goalkeeper February, was the undoubted star of the SA Under-23 squad’s 3-1 penalty shootout victory over hosts Senegal in the third-place playoff match at the Olympic-qualifying Caf U23 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Dakar on Saturday night. The 19-year-old from Strandfontein saved an astounding four penalties as the South Africans – against all odds – overcame an inspired Senegal.
The West Africans had the SA U23s under the cosh for long periods, but either squandered inviting scoring opportunities or found February impossible to pass. The goalkeeper saved one penalty during the regulation 90 minutes and then proceeded to stop another three in a tense, nail-biting penalty shootout climax to a game that had a place at the Olympics as the big prize.
The SA U23s will join Nigeria and Algeria at next year’s global sporting event in Rio, Brazil. It’s the first time since 2000 that the SA men’s football squad has qualified for the Olympics – and this time, there is even more cheer for the domestic game because the women’s football team have also qualified.
“I guess you can put it that I am the hero and made the difference,” said February. “But it was more of a team effort. Without the team putting in the extra effort and hard work, we would not have got to the penalty shootout. All I did was play my part and I am happy for SA football, we (have) got the platform, now we must grow the game.
“I thought that if I saved the one penalty in the game, then we are going to Rio, and I suppose lady luck was also on our side… and here we are, we are going to the Olympics.
“I am over the moon, I don’t know how to explain the feeling… throughout the tournament we were down, but not out, and we came back stronger. We showed that we are not at the tournament by fluke. We showed that we really wanted to go to Rio.”
February has always been highly rated as a goalkeeper. He rose through the ranks at Ajax CT’s successful youth academy and was last season promoted to the PSL squad. He made his senior debut against third division side Mainstay United in the last 32 of the Nedbank Cup in February last year - and, ever since, has acquitted himself well.
Earlier this season, with Ajax CT’s No 1 keeper Anssi Jaakkola suspended and number two Brandon Petersen injured, February was thrust into the starting line-up – and again, rose to the occasion. He has never looked out of place in the PSL, despite his tender age, and he is certainly among the country’s young footballers to watch.
Needless to say, Ajax CT are ecstatic that yet another product from their academy has come good at national level.
“It was a mature and commanding performance from Jody,” said Ajax CT chief executive Ari Efstathiou. “He certainly didn’t look like he was only 19 at an U23 tournament of that magnitude. He was unbelievable… and we are very proud of what he has done for the country and our club.
“I don’t think the U23s played too well and Jody carried the team in that third-place match. He is definitely a huge prospect for the future.”
Original source: All I did was play my part - February