Eswatini seek first knockout stage place in 20 years

Eswatini will be seeking a first passage out of the group stages in 20 years at the COSAFA Under-20 regional championship when they host the TotalEnergies AFCON U20 Egypt 2023 | COSAFA Qualifier from October 7-16.

The only time Eswatini have managed the feat before was in 2002 and it came via default as they lost 2-0 to Zimbabwe in the only game in Group B, which had been turned into a two-team pool by Madagascar’s withdrawal.

And with the top two sides in the groups advancing to the quarterfinals, Eswatini set up a meeting with hosts South Africa in the Last 8 but lost 7-1.

They came close to repeating that knockout showing in 2019, earning six points in their pool, but not enough to see them through as the best runner-up behind winners Angola.

A 2-0 in over Mozambique was followed by success against Seychelles by the same scoreline. But a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Angola meant they missed out on the semifinals, even if their performances were vastly improved.

In fact, they did not win a match at the COSAFA Under-20 Championships between 2004 and 2016, a record they finally put right when they beat Botswana 2-0 six years ago.

That was still not enough to advance to the knockout stages though as they suffered defeats to South Africa and Lesotho later on in the competition.

They also did not manage a win in 2017, with a draw against East African guest nation Uganda sandwiched by defeats to Malawi and hosts Zambia.

It was a similar story in 2018 when they played in a shortened three-team group, but successive 4-0 losses to Mauritius and South Africa saw them exit in the first round.

They were in a three-team pool in 2020 and stunned Angola with a 1-0 win in their first game, but a loss by the same scoreline to Botswana meant they finished as runners-up, a huge missed opportunity.

Their best finish was third place all the way back in 1985 when the country also hosted the competition.

The team this year will be coached by Mduduzi Nxumalo and they will have high hopes of reaching the semifinals having been named the seeded team in Group A.

They will open their campaign on October 7 against the same Botswana side they denied them two years ago.

They then clash with heavyweights Zambia two days later, before a final pool match against Mauritius on October 11.

The two finalists at the TotalEnergies AFCON U20 Egypt 2023 | COSAFA Qualifier will advance to the continental finals early next year, which in turn are the qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia.

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