COSAFA nations can look to FIFA Under-17 World Cup for inspiration

The teams competing in the Girls competition at the Region 5 Games Maseru 2020 from December 1-9 will be eying not only the next generation of international stars, but also potentially a run to the FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup.

The qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup that is to be staged in India from October 11-30 will get under way in January next year, though no COSAFA nations are appearing in the preliminary round.

But there will be four sides from the region who enter in the first round that is scheduled to take place in March.   Zambia will take on Namibia over two legs in an all-COSAFA clash, with the potential that those teams could get a dress rehearsal at the Region 5 Games Maseru 2020.

Whoever advances from there must face-off against either Cameroon or the winner of the preliminary round tie between Eritrea and South Sudan.

South Africa will take on the winner of the preliminary round tie between Equatorial Guinea and Kenya in what will be a tough encounter for them. The winner of that tie will face either Uganda or Ethiopia in the second round.

It was the Ugandans who defeated South Africa in the final of the inaugural 2019 COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship that was played in Mauritius, though both squads will have a very different look now.

The last of the COSAFA sides in the qualifiers are Botswana, who will take on 2020 COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship winners Tanzania in their first-round tie.

The winner of that contest goes forward to meet either Djibouti or Burundi in the second round.

With COSAFA leading the way on the African continent in terms of the development of women’s football, it is hoped that more teams from the region will emerge as contenders in the years to come.

The introduction of the COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship in 2019 was aimed at providing teams with more international competition in this vital age-group and was a resounding success, with East African guest nation Uganda walking away winners.

South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe all entered the qualifiers for what was to be the 2021 FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup. Namibia also initially entered, but later withdrew.

The qualification competition, and the finals, were ultimately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but not before they had got through some rounds.

Botswana got the better of Zimbabwe with a 7-0 aggregate scoreline to underline their potential but were then ousted by Morocco in the next stage. They trailed narrowly 1-0 from the first leg, but the COVID-19 pandemic meant they could not travel for the second and the tie was awarded to the North African nation.

South Africa and Zambia both essentially received a bye into the second stage and met in a hard-fought tussle.

Zambia won the first leg 2-0 and looked set to advance, but South Africa roared back to claim the second 3-0 and the aggregate win.

They were set to meet Morocco in the final round of qualifying for the finals before the tie was cancelled.

Botswana, Zambia and South Africa all also entered the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.

Botswana edged Zambia in a fascinating first round tie in the last qualifiers as they came back from 5-2 down after the first leg to win 4-0 and advance 6-5 on aggregate.

There were goals galore in the next round against South Africa as well as the latter claimed both ties with 5-2 and 6-4 victories for an 11-6 aggregate result.

South Africa went on to defeat Morocco 6-1 on aggregate in the final stage and book their ticket to the finals in Uruguay, along with fellow African sides Ghana and Cameroon.

It was the second time that the South Africans had competed on the global stage after also qualifying for the 2010 finals, while they are also one of only two teams from the region to compete at the World Cup.

Zambia are the other after they qualified for the 2014 finals Costa Rica, where they exited in the first round, but not before beating their hosts 2-1 in their final pool match.