21 June 2018 – It is not an age group that draws much glitz or glamour, but for many of the players at the COSAFA Under-17 Championship to be staged in Mauritius from July 19-29, this could be among the most important tournaments of their career.

Twelve nations from across the Southern African region will contest this year’s title, seeking not just to claim the glory of lifting the trophy, but also to qualify for the 2019 U17 AFCON.

That, in turn, could set them on the path to next year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup, a stage that has launched the careers of many of the game’s greats.  While this age-group has the perception of being schoolboys kicking about on the pitch, it is vitally important in the development of any player.

It is not just a first introduction to international football for many but helps to shape their path through the national team age-groups and sets them on the road to the senior national team.

This is not just true for players from the African continent. Germany midfielder Toni Kroos won the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, but he says the most important competition of his career was the Under-17 global finals in 2007.

“It was one of the most important events in my development as a footballer,” Kroos told FIFA.com.    “At that level you’re in a kind of vacuum: you’re still a youth player but at the same time you’re only a few steps away from being a pro. It’s a challenge and you think to yourself that if you work hard you can play in the first team next season.

The players who appear in the COSAFA Under-17 Championships this year may all be dreaming of playing in Europe’s big leagues one day but must start to show they are capable in their own countries first.

The experience and the confidence gained from playing in the regional showpiece competition can give them confidence when they go back to their clubs.

And for those that progress to the African finals and perhaps the World Cup, it will be the opportunity to market themselves to a wider audience and perhaps kick-start their professional careers.