The draws for the COSAFA Boys and Girls Under-17 Championships at the AUSC Region 5 Games will be held on Friday from 18h35 CAT as teams in Southern Africa gear up for battle in Maseru, Lesotho from December 1-10.
COSAFA will stage the youth football events at the Games, which will see several sporting codes in action. The festival swings into action having originally been scheduled for December 2020 but moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Football will be one of the highlights on the schedule and whereas in the past the Boys and Girls events have been split between Under-17 and Under-20 competitions, this year both will be played in the former age group.
There are 11 nations in the draw for the Boys competition and six for the Girls, where regional bragging rights and a gold medal will be up for grabs.
The Boys event will contain three pools, with hosts Lesotho the top seeds in Group A, defending champions South Africa headlining Group B and last year’s runners-up Zambia the leading side in Group C.
The remaining eight nations have been placed in two pots, with the higher ranked teams in Pot 1, namely Angola, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique.
Pot 2 contains Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles, with the island nations all returning after skipping last year due to COVID-19 challenges.
The first three teams drawn from Pot 1 will be placed into position two in each group, with the remaining nation moved to Pot 2 to make up a total of five countries.
Three more balls will be drawn into position three in each of the pools, with the final two into position four in Groups A and B. That means Group C will be a three-team pool.
The top team in each pool and the best-placed runner-up will advance to the semifinals.
The draw for the Girls competition is simpler, with two groups each containing three sides. Zambia, who were runners-up to East African guest nation Tanzania last year, are the top seeds in Group A, with bronze medalists from 2020, South Africa, taking up that position in Group B as the next highest ranked side.
The four remaining countries, Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Mozambique will then be drawn to fill up the two pools. The top two teams in each pool will advance to the semifinals.
Both previous official COSAFA Girl’s Under-17 Championships have been won by guest nations, Uganda in 2019 and then Tanzania last year, so there will be a chance for a new champion from the region to emerge in 2021.
South Africa lead the way with three titles in the Boy’s Under-17 Championship, followed by Zambia with two. But Angola (2018), Malawi (2001), Namibia (2016) and Zimbabwe (2007) have also lifted the title, which has generally been shared around.
COSAFA has put a big focus on youth development in recent years and has been lauded by FIFA and CAF for their work in women’s football in particular.
These two tournaments will be another giant step forward in providing youngsters in the region with the opportunity for an introduction to international football, and perhaps the start of stellar careers for the nations across all age groups.