The 2021 COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship will be staged in Eswatini from December 10-18 and feature nine sides from across the region in a fantastic festival of football to close the year.
It will be the first time the competition has been staged in Eswatini since 1993, with Mozambique seeking to retain the title they won last year when they neat Namibia in the final.
Namibia will not be back to have another go at winning the trophy, with the confirmed competing nations Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Zambia.
Zimbabwe, who have not won this competition since 2007, but were finalists in 2018, have also opted out, as have Angola, Madagascar and Mauritius from the COSAFA region.
The nine teams will be placed into three pools of three teams each, with that draw set to take place on Monday in Lesotho, where COSAFA is preparing to help stage the Region 5 Games Maseru 2020.
The winners of the three pools and the best placed runner-up will advance to the semifinals.
Matches will be played at the Mavuso Stadium in Manzini and the Kalanga Stadium, which has an artificial turf.
The tournament was first played in 1983 but was a little-recognised get-together of a few of the stalwarts of the region, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.
The Apartheid practices of South Africa at the time meant they were excluded, and the country only entered the fray for the first time in 1993.
Those early years were dominated by the ‘Two Zs’, with Zambia winning six and Zimbabwe three of the first nine tournaments held.
South Africa were the first team to break the mould when they triumphed in 2000, having been losing finalists in 1995 and 1999.
A year earlier, in 1999, they had taken over the hosting of the event, which before then had been spread around the region. Each tournament up until 2009 was held in the Rainbow Nation, but the winners were less easy to predict.
Madagascar became only the fourth country to win the event when they surprisingly triumphed in 2005, beating shock finalists Lesotho 1-0 in the final.
Before Lesotho three years ago, the previous two instalments, in 2010 and 2011, were hosted by Botswana, with Zambia extending their winning streak to three with success in both.
They added an 11th title in 2016 when they romped through the competition, defeating hosts South Africa 2-1 in the final.
South Africa regained the trophy in 2017 though, after Zambia surprisingly exited in the pool stages.
And they won again in 2018, this time defeated Zimbabwe in the final after a tense penalty shoot-out.
But Zambia are always in contention, and they fairly romped to the title on home soil in 2019, defeating old enemy South Africa 3-0 in the decider to complete an excellent tournament.
Mozambique became the fifth winner with their triumph in 2020 as they beat Namibia 1-0 in the final, a richly deserved success after a number of near misses down the years.
But more than lifting the trophy, the competition is about developing the talent of tomorrow and giving young players the chance to tackle their peers in a highly competitive environment that should help to prepare them for the challenges of senior international football.
2000 South Africa
2004 South Africa
2006 South Africa
2008 South Africa
2009 South Africa
2013 South Africa
2017 South Africa
2018 South Africa
11 – Zambia
8 – South Africa
6 – Zimbabwe
1 – Madagascar, Mozambique