20 June 2018 – The COSAFA U17 Championship is celebrating 24 years since the first ball was kicked in 1994, hosted by South Africa. The 2018 edition will be staged in Mauritius for the third year running – from 19 – 28 July.
South Africa is in Group B alongside Lesotho, defending champions Zambia and Mozambique.
The hosts are in Group A, together with Botswana, Namibia and Seychelles, while Group C contains Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi and Swaziland. South Africa and Lesotho will open their account against Lesotho on Friday, 20 July at 13h30. The second match will be against Mozambique on Sunday, 22 Jul) at 10h00 – and both matches will be played at the Auguste Vollaire Stadium in Flacq.
The third and final group stage clash will be played in capital Port Louis against Zambia on Tuesday, 24 July at the St Francois Xavier Stadium at 13h00.
Here is a look back at the previous tournaments played since the first one some 24 years ago.
1994 – SOUTH AFRICA
The first attempt at a regional Under-17 championship was played in South Africa in 1994 and won by the hosts. They edged the likes of Zambia, Swaziland and Malawi in the opening stage, as well as recording a 9-0 win over Namibia.
That set up a semifinal with Zimbabwe, which was claimed 5-1 by the hosts, who then defeated Mozambique 2-1 in the decider. The South African side included several players who would go on to have full international careers, including Delron Buckley, Steve Lekoelea and Wayne Roberts. But it was Junaid Hartley who proved the star with hat-tricks against Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as another goal in the final for a tournament tally of seven.
2001 – MALAWI
It would be another seven years before the competition was staged again and this time it took place in Malawi, with the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe playing host. Malawi ultimately triumphed as they defeated South Africa 3-0 in the decider for what should have been a fine new generation of players, though only Moses Chavula and Robert Ng’ambi truly went on to fulfil their potential. A number of the South African players also did not make despite a strong showing again, though the team did include stalwart Daine Klate and Lebogang Mokoena, who would go on to enjoy fruitful careers.
2002 – SOUTH AFRICA
The tournament returned to South Africa the following year and for the third time running it was the host nation who lifted the trophy. This time round the competition was played in a round-robin format with the four-team field made up of South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. The highlight of the competition was a thrilling 5-4 victory over Swaziland. Mokoena was again the star of the show for the home side as he netted six goals in the three matches played. South Africa won all three of their games, while the other sides all finished on two points from three games. Swaziland claimed second place on goals scored.
2016 – MAURITIUS
It would be a long 14-year wait for the next finals to be played and this time the competition was expended to eight sides and played on the Indian Island nation of Mauritius. It proved a wonderful showcase of the skill among young players in the region and was ultimately won by Namibia. There was a level of controversy when Zambia, who had stormed through their first-round group with three wins from three, and 10 goals scored, and none conceded, were disqualified from the competition after being found guilty of fielding two over-age players. That meant Malawi and East African guest nation Kenya advanced from Group B, while the top two sides in Group A were South Africa and Namibia.
The South Africans eased past Kenya in the semifinals, and Namibia edged Malawi 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. The final also ended 1-1 and Namibia kept up their strong shoot-out record as they edged South Africa 3-1 on penalties. Malawi finished third with a 2-0 success over Kenya. Top-scorer in the competition was Malawi’s Peter Banda with five goals.
2017 – MAURITIUS
Zambia made up for their indiscretion the year before by storming to the 2017 title, beating hosts Mauritius 3-0 in the final. The Young Chipolopolo started with a bang, beating Madagascar 7-1 in their Group B opener as Lameck Banda and Martin Njobvu both scored hat-tricks, before they edged old rivals South Africa 3-2 but then suffered a surprise 1-0 loss to Mozambique in their final pool game. They still managed to finish top of the group on goal-difference, with South Africa the runners-up. Malawi stormed to the top of Group A with three wins from three matches, including a handsome 5-0 win over Zimbabwe. In fact, they did not even concede a goal.
They were joined by Mauritius in the semi-finals after the islanders recorded wins over Zimbabwe (1-0) and Botswana (2-1), before losing their final game to Malawi. The Malawians came untuck in the semi-finals though as Zambia cruised to a 2-0 win, while Mauritius defeated South Africa by the same score line in the other Last 4 game.
The result in the final might have been emphatic in Zambia’s favour, but it took them until the 72nd minute to make the breakthrough as Prince Mumba netted the opener. That was followed by quick goals via Christopher Phiri and Kingsley Hakwiya. Malawi finished third after they beat South Africa 2-1 in the bronze-medal match.
** NB **
The three group winners and best placed runner-up in Mauritius, determined first by the number of points obtained, advance from the group stages to the semifinals
The COSAFA U17 Championship will have added significance this year when they serve as the qualifier from the Southern African region for the continental finals to be staged in Tanzania next year
Only the winners of the COSAFA tournament will appear in East Africa, which in turn will serve as a qualifier for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Peru.