A game like no other on show in Lilongwe

The CAF African Schools Football Championship | COSAFA Qualifier gets under way in Lilongwe, Malawi on Saturday where the best scholars from across the region will compete for a place in the continental finals.

The matches are for players aged 12-15 and rather than representing their national teams, the leaners play in the colours of their school. There is a boys and girls competition, which will be played concurrently.

Each team on the pitch will consist of eight players and matches last 40 minutes, two periods of 20 minutes separated by a 10-minute break.

One of the features of the fixtures is that there are unlimited substitutions, meaning coaches can keep rotating the players they have on the pitch.

Teams have been through their own national competition to qualify for this stage, which for many will be an introduction to playing opponents from other countries.

Aside from the glory of being crowned champions, there is another carrot being dangled for teams in Lilongwe.

CAF recently announced the prize money for the zonal competition, and it is eye-watering for the schools:

* US$100,000 for the winners in Lilongwe
* US$75,000 for the runners-up
* US$50,000 the third-place side.

That jumps up considerately in the continental championships to US$300,000 (winners), US$200,000 (second) and US$150,000 (third).

The total prize money in the first year is US$4-million and will be allocated from the US$10-million donation from the Motsepe Foundation. The prize money for the winning boys school and the winning girls school are the same.

“Schools football is at the heart of the long-term development and growth of African football,” CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe said. “One of the best investments that we can make to ensure that African football is amongst the best world, is to invest in schools football and football infrastructure for boys and girls at school, amateur and professional level.”