The 2018 MOPANI Copper Mines COSAFA Under-20 Championships will again be played in the Zambian city of Kitwe from December 2-14. Here is a quick lowdown on the 12 competing nations ahead of Wednesday’s first round draw.
Angola will be hoping to make history when they compete at the 2018 COSAFA Under-20 Championships. The country have never tasted success in the junior version of the regional championship, this despite some excellent success in the COSAFA Cup senior competition.
They have appeared in four finals though, losing three in a row between 2000 and 2002, and then again in 2011 when they went down 2-1 to Zambia.
After finishing fourth in 2016, Angola disappointed by their own high standards last year when they picked up just a single point from their three games to finish bottom of Group C
Angola have always been known as a fine producer of young talent, many of whom make their way to Portugal and other parts of Europe.
The Young Zebras make a return to the COSAFA Under-20 Championships after missing the tournament last year and will seek a first ever trip to the final. Botswana’s best finishes in this competition came in 2009 and 2011 when they managed third place
First they beat Madagascar 3-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the bronze-medal play-off in 2009. The Young Zebras had made it through their pool, but lost 3-0 to South Africa in the semifinals.
They then hosted in 2011 and this time lost to Zambia in the semifinals before beating Malawi to bronze. Their last appearance came in 2016 when the side lost all three of their pool games without scoring a goal.
Lesotho’s Under-20 side have in the recent past been star performers in the COSAFA region having qualified for the African Youth Championships in 2011, just their second ever appearance at the tournament.
And they did not disgrace themselves at the continental showpiece event in South Africa either, claiming a draw against eventual semifinalists Mali and losing narrowly to South Africa and Egypt.
Lesotho narrowly missed out on the knockout stages in the 2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships after two wins and a loss in the pool phase meant they finished second in their group.
But they did much better last year, topping Group C and beating East African guest nation Uganda in the semifinals, before narrowly going down 2-1 to South Africa in the decider.
Lesotho have also made the final of the COSAFA Under-20 Championships before, in 2005, when they lost 1-0 to Madagascar.
Malawi finished a credible fourth in the COSAFA Under-20 Championships tournament in Botswana in 2011 having not played in the previous two installments of the competition, and then did not appear again in 2013.
They returned in 2016, but could not make it past the first round as a draw and a loss meant they finished second in their three-team pool. They came closer in 2017, gaining five points, but missing out on top spot in their pool on goal-difference to Uganda.
Malawi have yet to win the regional showpiece competition, but did reach the final in 2003 when they lost out to Zambia in the decider.
The side last made it out of their group six years ago, but lost 4-2 to Angola in the semifinals and were then beaten 1-0 by hosts Botswana in the third-place play-off.
Mauritius will seek to show their potential at this age group level after mixed performances in recent years as they compete at the 2018COSAFA Under-20 Championships. Having taken just a single point from six matches in the two tournaments before the 2016 showpiece event, they came within a whisker of reaching the knockout stages two years ago.
They needed to beat Angola in their final pool game to advance, but were held to a 1-1 draw to end the campaign unbeaten with a win and two draws, their best showing to date in the competition.
But that was followed by disappointment in 2017 when they lost all three of their games without scoring a goal.
In Botswana in 2011, the side also lost all three of their pool matches, conceding 11 goals and scoring none, and two years later claimed a single point from three games.
Mozambique are still searching for their first-ever COSAFA Under-20 Championships title having been beaten finalists in 2008. They lost to then hosts South Africa on that occasion but will be hoping to go one better this time round after disappointingly losing out in the first round of the event in the last six installments.
They did narrowly miss out on the semifinals in Botswana in 2011, the hosts just pipping them on goal-difference in a three-team pool that also included Swaziland. And in 2016 they finished their three-team pool with two draws and so lost out to DR Congo for a place in the knockout stages.
Last year they returned home early with a single win and two defeats, though they were in a tough pool with eventual champions South Africa and North African guest nation Egypt.
Namibia were in many ways the surprise-package of the 2010 COSAFA Under-20 Championships, making it all the way to the final before losing out to Zambia. Some of the football that they displayed was simply outstanding and players such as captain Sydney Urikhob have gone on to play in South Africa’s PSL.
It was their best ever result in the tournament, beating their semifinal showing in 2007, but they could not repeat the feat when they competed in 2013.
There they managed five points from a possible nine to finish second in their first round pool behind the powerful South Africans. Namibia did not compete in the last COSAFA Under-20 Championships held in South Africa in 2016, but did return last year.
They managed a win, a draw and a defeat in their three games, a 0-0 draw with Zimbabwe in their final pool game sealing their fate.
Reunion will make their debut at a COSAFA tournament at any age-group level after the associate member requested the chance to take part in the 2018 COSAFA Under-20 Championships.
The island, which is a territory of France, has a rich footballing history and are expected to be competitive having excelled in the Indian Ocean Games against a number of other COSAFA sides, such as Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros and Seychelles.
The island has produced a number of top footballers, including Marseille and France midfielder Dimitri Payet, former Liverpool striker Florent Sinama Pongolle, and ex-Paris St Germain stars Guillaume Hoarau and Laurent Robert.
South Africa have traditionally been one of the powerhouses in the region in Under-20 football and will be looking to defend the crown they won in Kitwe last year. They have won the competition six times in all, with their first title coming in 2000. They also hosted the tournament for 11 consecutive years between 1999 and 2009.
They went all the way to the final on home soil in 2016, playing some scintillating football, but lost out to Zambia in the decider with a 2-1 defeat.
That was seen as a major disappointment, but they atoned for that with a runb all the way to the gold medal in 2017.
After topping their pool with a full haul of nine points, ‘Amajita’ edged North African guest nation Egypt 1-0 in the semifinals. That set up a decider with Lesotho and South African emerged as 2-1 winners to take home the trophy. The team will be coached again this year by Thabo Senong, who has led them to the last two championships.
Swaziland will be hoping to make a big impression at this year’s COSAFA Under-20 Championships having exited the competition in the first round for the last 12 tournaments.
In fact, they did not won a match at the COSAFA Under-20 Championships between 2004 and 2016, a record they finally put right when they beat Botswana 2-0 two years ago.
That was still not enough to advance to the knockout stages though as they suffered defeats to South Africa and Lesotho later on in the competition. They also did not manage a win in 2017, with a draw against East African guest nation Uganda sandwiched by defeats to Malawi and hosts Zambia.
Zambia are the most successful nation in the COSAFA Under-20 Championship competition with 11 victories in all, their last win coming in South Africa in 2016. Zambia were rampant as they stormed through that competition and inflicted a 2-1 defeat on their hosts in the decider.
They went on to claim the African Youth Championships title, and also excelled at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea in May last year.
But the side disappointed in the COSAFA Under-20 Championship on home soil in 2017, bowing out in the first round after a defeat to East African guest nation Uganda was followed by a draw with Malawi and a win over Swaziland.
They will now seek to extend their record tally of 11 regional titles, five more than second-placed Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Zimbabwe will once again be among the favourites for the COSAFA Under-20 Championships having established themselves as a regional powerhouse down the years.
The Young Warriors side has been amongst the most successful teams in the history of the competition with six wins in all, the last coming in 2007 when they beat hosts South Africa 3-0 to record a comprehensive final win.
They surprisingly did not fare well in South Africa in 2016 though, going out in the first round with 5-1 loss to Zambia followed by a 0-0 draw with Malawi.
That was followed by another early exit in 2017 when they lost out to Lesotho at the top of their pool on goals scored, having been held to draws by the latter and Namibia.