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

The teams competing at the COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay from November 5-13 will be eying not only the next generation of international stars, but also potentially a run one day to the FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup.

Of those sides competing this year, only South Africa remain in contention as they face Morocco over two legs for a place in the global showpiece tournament that is scheduled to be hosted in India from February 17-March 7 next year.

That event has been rescheduled from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to appear on the global stage is the ultimate prize for every side in this age-group.    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 inaugural COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship in Mauritius last year 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 is now the 2021 Women’s Under-17 World Cup. Namibia also initially entered, but later withdrew.  Botswana got the better of Zimbabwe with a 7-0 aggregate scoreline to underline their potential, and 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 are set to meet Morocco in the final round of qualifying for the finals, though that tie remains uncertain due to COVID-19.     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.    The 2020 COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship promises to provide more international experience for the teams and hopefully boost their chances of qualification next time round.

The field has been limited to just six teams due to COVID-19, but will see Botswana, Comoros, South Africa, East Africa guest nation Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe compete.

The draw for the two first round pools will be made on Thursday.