2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships – Day One Preview

The COSAFA Under-20 Championships, sponsored by PPC, makes a return on Wednesday for the first hosting of the regional showpiece tournament in three years.

South Africa will be both hosts and defending champions going into the December 7-16 event that will be staged in the country’s North West province at the Moruleng and Mogwase stadiums.

Fourteen teams will compete in the first round, including guest nations DR Congo and Sudan, but immediate focus will be on Groups A and B that get under way on Wednesday.

The opening match of the tournament will be played at the Moruleng Stadium between Swaziland and Botswana (kick-off 14h00).

It is the fourth tournament in a row that these two teams clash and Botswana have held sway so far, claiming victories in 2010 (2-0), 2011 (3-0) and 2013 (2-0).

They will expect similar success with a strong Young Zebras selection led by Coach George Mogopodi that has been boosted by a number of Botswana Premier League clubs agreeing to release players for the tournament.

Swaziland have called on a very young team that includes 11 players aged 15, more than half of their squads.

It is in essence an Under-17 team that Swaziland are using to look to the future and replenish a senior national team that has done well in recent times, including finishing third at the COSAFA Castle Cup in Namibia in June.

South Africa have also selected a squad full of fresh players as they open their tournament against Lesotho at the Moruleng Stadium (19h30).

Coach Thabo Senong is using the COSAFA Under-20 Championships to build for the African Youth Championships to be staged in Zambia in late February.

But he has been hamstrung in that a number of his key players have not been released by their respective domestic and European club sides, meaning he has had to cast his net wider.

There is still the highly-rated Luther Singh who should be a drawcard. He is available as his season with Swedish side GAIS has come to an end.

They last met Lesotho in the 2010 competition and it was the Mountain Kingdom who came out on top with a 2-1 success.

Lesotho have also gone for youth but have had some success in the build-up to the tournament, beating Swaziland 3-1 and playing to a 0-0 draw in a second game between the too.

Lesotho have included 13-year-old Relebohile Thulo, who will be the youngest player at the tournament.

Between those two matches is a massive clash between regional heavyweights Zambia and Zimbabwe, who are battling it out for top in Group B. That game is also in Moruleng at 16h30.

Zambia are the most successful side in the competition with 10 wins, followed by Zimbabwe with six. They will both expect to advance from the pool and with the third team in the pool a useful Malawi side, three points here would be vital.

This will be the first time that the teams have met in the COSAFA Under-20 Championships since Zambia claimed a semi-final win in 2010 on their way to lifting the trophy.