Hosts South Africa are the top seeds in Group A but while they may be favourites to advance to the semifinals of the 2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships, sponsored by PPC, they will face a mighty challenge from their neighbours.
The South Africans are using the December 7-16 tournament in the North West province as a stepping stone to the African Youth Championships in Zambia starting in February next year.
Coach Thabo Senong has already said the COSAFA competition will be the “perfect” way for his side to tune up for this event, but is well aware that in pool opponents Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, they face three sides who all have the ability to upset their best-laid plans.
South Africa go into the tournament as defending champions after success in Lesotho three years ago, when they saw off East Africa guest nation Kenya 2-0 in the final.
Their build-up to the defence of their title has been smooth, and they will face the Kenyans again in a pre-tournament warm-up on November 26.
Lesotho have Motlalepula Mojoro as their coach and will provide the first opponents for the hosts.
These two sides have had some titanic battles down the years and Lesotho have given as good as they got.
South Africa and Lesotho will open their respective campaigns against one-another at the Moruleng Stadium on December 7 (kick-off 19h30).
Earlier in the day Swaziland take on Botswana in another intriguing tussle that will kick-off at 14h00.
It is in fact the opening game of the tournament between two sides for which much is expected this year.
Botswana have decided to fully focus on their Under-20 side this year with Coach George Mogopodi searching far and wide for new talent.
For Swaziland, victory in one of their games would be a major step forward as they have not won at the COSAFA Under-20 Championships since 2004, a long wait for their fans.
South Africa will take on Swaziland in their second game of the pool on December 9 (kick-off 14h00), while Lesotho and Botswana clash before that on the same day (11h00). Both of those matches are in Moruleng.
The pool deciders will be played on December 12 with Botswana taking on South Africa in Moruleng. The clash between Lesotho and Swaziland will be played at the Mogwase Stadium as both matches must start simultaneously. Kick-off has been scheduled for 17h00.
GROUP A FIXTURES
07/12 – 14h00: Swaziland vs Botswana – Moruleng Stadium
07/12 – 19h30: South Africa vs Lesotho – Moruleng Stadium
09/12 – 11h00: Lesotho vs Botswana – Moruleng Stadium
09/12 – 14h00: South Africa vs Swaziland – Moruleng Stadium
12/12 – 17h00: Lesotho vs Swaziland – Mogwase Stadium
12/12 – 17h00: Botswana vs South Africa – Moruleng Stadium