Women’s game advancing at Under-20 level ahead of COSAFA Championships

The teams that compete at the inaugural 2019 COSAFA Under-20 Women’s Championship in Port Elizabeth from August 1-11 will have the opportunity to build towards the FIFA World Cup in this age-group next year.

It is a perfect and rare opportunity for players in this age-group to get competitive international football outside of continental qualifiers, and one that a number of COSAFA nations have seized on.

Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, hosts South Africa, East African guest nation Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all confirmed that participation, while the eighth side will be named before the draw on July 3 at COSAFA House in Johannesburg.

Teams will potentially enter the qualifiers for the World Cup, likely to be staged in India, next year, and do so with some strong preparation under their belt.  Botswana and South Africa were the only COSAFA sides to enter the last set of qualifiers, with the latter falling at the final hurdle against old enemy Nigeria.

Zambia have also been recent participants though, as have Namibia and Mozambique.

The Under-20 Women’s World Cup has been played every two years since 2002 but has never had a participant from the COSAFA region.

In fact, the only African nations to appear have been Nigeria, Ghana and DR Congo, a target for all Southern African sides to reach.   FIFA’s Technical Study Group at the last finals in France in 2018 made special mention of the huge progress made in this age-group in women’s football, and none of the African teams will want to be left behind.

“We can confirm the concrete progress that women’s football is making from a technical, tactical and fitness point of view. Such improvement is to a great extent due to the excellent coaching we are seeing across all confederations,” said Branimir Ujević, the Head of the FIFA Coaching & Player Development Department, which is responsible for the TSG.

Patricia González, Head of TSG and Women’s Football Technical Programmes Manager, detailed the developments in the women’s game at this level.   “On the one hand, goalkeepers are actively contributing to their teams’ build-up play, and overall we saw solid defensive structures and players with a great sense of anticipation, such as Japan’s Hana Takahashi,” she said.

“On the other hand, we witnessed a remarkable ability and attitude by the attackers to make the most out of the few chances that came their way. Patricia Guijarro, the tournament’s top scorer and best player, as well as Emelyne Laurent, are prototypes of clinical finishers.

“The great tactical flexibility shown by the majority of teams confirms that players at U-20 World Cup level are increasingly mature,” added González.

Sarai Bareman, Chief Women’s Football Officer for FIFA, says the overall impact of the women’s game has been immense.    “Women’s football has taken momentous strides in the last few years, driven by the ever-increasing number of grassroots participants across the globe as well as by a concentrated top-down effort and increased investment by football’s governing bodies,” Bareman said in a foreword to the TSG report.

“The performances of the individual players and teams on the pitch [at the Uncer-20 World Cup] displayed the tangible benefits of the amplified attention that the women’s game has received, and deserves.”

COSAFA nations can take a giant step forward in their development at the inaugural Under-20 championships in Port Elizabeth, and also become the maiden winners of what is sure to become a coveted trophy.