The 2019 COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship gets under way on Wednesday with hosts Zambia taking on Botswana (kick-off 15h30) in their opening Group A fixture at the Nkoloma Stadium as they seek to regain the title they last won in 2016.
It is the last of a record six tournaments hosted by COSAFA this year with the winner to be decided in the final on December 14.
Zambia will hope to be there but must come through a tough first round pool that also includes Malawi and Comoros Islands, who will meet in the other Group A fixture at the same venue at 12h45.
The tournament gets under way when Angola take on Seychelles in a Group C clash at 10h00. Zambia will be led by coach Oswald Mutapa, who claimed victory in the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship in October and will now be seeking to do a unique ‘double’ by claiming the Under-20 competition too.
But they will face a mighty challenge, including from South Africa, who have won the last two installments, but head into the 2019 edition with a new-look side under a new coach in former Bafana Bafana winger Helman Mkhalele.
They must face off against Mauritius, Lesotho and Madagascar in Group B, starting with the former on Thursday, and Mkhalele says the new squad has so far gelled well.
“I am happy with the preparations; they have gone well. We are starting to see the players gel and understand each other and our tactical philosophy,” he said.
“The players have the confidence, when you start winning games it becomes a habit and that has developed in the squad ahead of the tournament. I am also happy with the attitude they have displayed.
“We are mindful of the challenges we will be faced with, playing against teams that will be gunning to beat us as the defending champions. “Physically and mentally we are ready, the only thing we must do now is go out there and perform. We are ready for the challenge.”
Aside from Angola and Seychelles, Lesotho and Madagascar are the other two teams in Group C, which means it is an ‘all-Southern African championship’ with no guest nations, as has been the norm in recent times.
Only the top team in each pool advances to the semifinals, along with the best-placed runner-up, meaning there is also to play for in the pool, and little margin for error.
General entrance tickets for both venues cost K10.00 and are valid for all matches played on that day, which during the pool stages is as many as three games, which makes for excellent value.
There are also VIP options available for both venues at a cost of K50.00, with tickets in both categories on sale at Computicket in all Shoprite outlets nationwide.
Fans can follow all of the action on ZNBC, as well as streamed live via COSAFATV to anywhere around the globe. Visit www.cosafa.com and www.cosafa.tv to take in the action once the matches are under way.
To view all the tournament fixtures throughout the 11 days of action, click here.
Zambia have been the most successful of the sides down the years with 10 wins, followed by South Africa (eight) and Zimbabwe (six). Madagascar are the only other nation to pick up the title following their 2005 success.
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 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.
Zambia added an 10th title in 2016 when they romped through the competition, defeating hosts South Africa 2-1 in the final.