The TotalEnergies AFCON U20 Egypt 2023 | COSAFA Qualifier is set to light up Eswatini from October 7-16 in what will be the latest installment of the vital regional tournament that has been a breeding ground for so much Southern African talent down the years.
The competition will also act as a zonal qualifier for the Under-20 Cup of Nations in Egypt from February 14-March 6, with the two finalists this year set to advance to the continental showpiece.
Mozambique will be looking to retain the title they won in 2020, as fans get to see a new batch of young stars from the Southern African region.
There was no competition played in 2021 as the event that was scheduled for Eswatini was postponed due to the emergnce of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
But it is back on the calendar now and the COSAFA Under-20 Championship has been vital in developing some of the brightest stars from the region in its many guises down the years.
Running through the list of past stars to grace the finals, it reads like a Who’s Who of Southern African football and all will have benefitted from the exposure they got to top level competition.
From a South African perspective, the likes of Itumeleng Khune, Lerato Chabangu, Daine Klate, Elrio van Heerden and Lebohang Mokoena all represented their country at this level and gone on to forge successful club and international careers.
Other young stars such as Clifford Mulenga and Isaac Chansa (both Zambia), Tinashe Nengomasha and Onismor Bhasera (both Zimbabwe), as well as Jimmy Zakazaka (Malawi), have used the tournament to persuade clubs outside of their country that they have a bright future in the game.
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 laws of South Africa at the time meant they were excluded, and the country 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.
Before Lesotho in 2013, the previous two installments, in 2010 and 2011, were hosted by Botswana, with Zambia extending their winning streak to three with success in both.
They added an 10th title in 2016 when they romped through the competition, defeating hosts South Africa 2-1 in the final.
South Africa regained the trophy in 2017 though after Zambia surprisingly exited in the pool stages.
And they won again in 2018, this time defeated Zimbabwe in the final after a tense penalty shoot-out.
But Zambia are always in contention and they raced the title on home soil in 2019, defeating old enemy South Africa 3-0 in the decider to complete an excellent tournament.
Mozamboique have long produced excellent footballers and they finally got some reward at junior level as they lifted the torphy for the first time in 2020.
They did it the hard way too, seeing off South Africa in the pool stages before defeating Zambia on penalties in the semifinals. They triumphed after a 1-0 win over Namiobia in the final.
But more than lifting the trophy, the comeptition is about developing the talent of tomorrow and giving young players the chance to tackle their peers in a highly-competitive environment that should help to prepare them for the challenges of senior international football.
2000 South Africa
2004 South Africa
2006 South Africa
2008 South Africa
2009 South Africa
2013 South Africa
2017 South Africa
2018 South Africa
11 – Zambia
8 – South Africa
6 – Zimbabwe
1 – Madagascar, Mozambique