Born in Ulundi, Northern KwaZulu-Natal 19 years ago, Mbatha has represented his country 32 times at U-17 and U-20 level, and scored seven goals in the process.
The tricky player is a product of the SAFA School of Excellence and is now registered with the senior team of Bidvest Wits. He has been a significant part of Amajimbos (U-17) and Amajita’s success.
Mbatha, who was man of the match in the 3-1 win over Sudan, shared his thoughts with SAFA Media ahead of the semi-final with hosts Zambia at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on Wednesday.
Senegal and Guinea will contest the other semi-final on Thursday at Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola. Kick-off for both matches is 18h00.
All four teams will represent Africa at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea this year.
SM: S’bonga, thanks for your time. How has life been for you since the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile?
Mbatha: It’s only a pleasure. Well a lot has happened as you’ve mentioned that I signed for Bidvest Wits just after matriculating from the School of Excellence. I have being training with the first team, played a few friendly matches with them and I have also played for the reserve side. I am also studying with UNISA and just yesterday (Sunday, 5 March) we qualified for the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup – so yes, I can say life has been good since we came back from Chile.
SM: You have an impressive profile - 32 international caps, seven goals and too many assists, at just 19 years…
Mbatha: It is simple, God. He has helped so much because I know that I belong to Him and without Him I would not function. A lot has happened, but what is important is how you carry yourself forward, on and off the pitch. I believe that I am a grounded person. I know what I want out of life and I am here today because of that. Outside factors and peer pressure can break us teenagers, so it is important to keep the right type of people around you at all times.
SM: In just two years, you played in the Africa Cup of Nations at U-17 and U-20 level, the FIFA U-17 World Cup and you have now qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Mbatha: These are truly exciting times for our generation and for the country as a whole. I am very excited with my achievements and more excited about Vision 2022. We have been told that we are Vision 2022 and the fact that we have been able to tick off two junior AFCON tournaments as well as two World Cup finals, is a clear indication that the vision is in place. I just hope I will be part of the final squad that will go to South Korea, and I am also confident this time around we will give a much better performance that we did in Chile in 2015.
SM: People sing your praises everywhere you - from Niger, Chile and now in Zambia. What can you attribute that to?
Mbatha: When you place a tortoise and a rabbit on the racetrack to compete, people already see the rabbit as an obvious winner, given the difference in terms of pace, but we all know what happened with that tale. Same with me, football these days is not about how big you are but what you can do on and off the ball. I do not think it is my height that makes me stand out, but rather what I bring to the game that has attracted me so much attention. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the fans that have supported me all these years, they should also know that it is because of them that I want to perform in every match. We should also thank Burger King for making it possible for us to be where we are today, their support has been phenomenal and helped us prepare very well.
SM: Amajita play some attractive football, irrespective of who’s on the field or not – and you have very good attackers like Singh, Mahlambi, Margeman, Jordan, Kodisang, Mayo and Shopane, to mention a few…
Mbatha: We have to give credit to our technical team, led by head coach Thabo Senong - they have done a tremendous job in making sure that we play the way we do and are well prepared in every match. We work very hard at training and it shows during matches. And also, we have a great bunch of players and I really enjoy playing alongside them. We have played together before and understand each other’s movements on and off the ball, which makes our attacks easier.
SM: Many might not have noticed this, but you cry almost every time you score a goal - you did this against Lesotho last year in the U-20 AFCON qualifiers and again yesterday against Sudan. Why is that?
Mbatha: I pray to score in every match I play, and when I do score, it is an amazing feeling to know that my prayers have been answered. Yesterday I cried because the goal I scored sealed our second qualification to the FIFA World Cup. But every time I find the back of the net I become very emotional because it means a lot to score for your country – especially if that goal weighs more, like the one against Sudan.
SM: Lastly, you face Zambia in the semi-finals of the CAF U-20 AFCON – and this is now round three with the hosts who defeated South Africa on two previous occasions. What are our chances?
Mbatha: This will not be an easy game, without doubt. We know they are good side, we know their key players and their style of play – and we are aware they know about us too. Remember they beat us in the COSAFA Cup final in December last year, and also in a friendly international just prior to the start of the 2017 AFCON, so we will do our best to turn the results around. It will be more difficult this time because they will be playing in front of their fans, but we have to overcome that and face the challenge head on. It is important that we stick to our game plan - the coaches always tell us that we should play the way we train. The good thing is now that we have secured qualification for the World Cup, there is no pressure and this could work in our favour. Personally, I hope to score a goal and in the process give a man-of-the-match performance because we want to play in the final of AFCON and win it.