Zimbabwe’s return to the 2020 COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championships offers them a chance to make up for lost time after their absence 12 months ago, and is a welcome addition to the field for one of the region’s powerhouse football nations.
Zimbabwe has developed a steady stream of talent over the years, many finding their way into South Africa’s Premier Soccer League, or even straight to Europe where players are prized assets for their teams.
The side have been drawn in Group A at the Under-20 regional championship along with hosts South Africa, Mozambique and Lesotho. With just the top teams in each pool and the best-placed runners-up advancing to the semifinals, it will be a fiercely contested pool.
And Zimbabwe have some work to do to improve their recent record at this level.
They were runners-up in 2018, but were ousted in the group stages in 2016 and 2017, which will have been a disappointment. The last time the team lifted the trophy was all the way back in 2007.
Indeed, the Young Warriors side has been amongst the most successful teams in the history of the competition with six wins in all. But their recent record does require closer inspection.
They surprisingly did not fare well in South Africa in 2016 though, going out in the first round with 5-1 loss to Zambia, followed by a 0-0 draw with Malawi. They narrowly missed out on the semifinals in 2017 based on goals scored, with 0-0 draws against Lesotho and Namibia either side of a 1-0 win over Angola.
But as Lesotho had scored one more goal than them in the pool stages, they advanced as the top team in the pool.
The side fared much better in 2018 though, they finished top of their pool with six points from a possible nine, and then surprised Zambia 2-1 in the semifinals.
They met South Africa in the decider, but lost 4-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw.
The carrot being dangled in front of the Zimbabwean players are the number of scouts from mostly South African clubs who will be at the tournament to look out for new talent from a country that has a long history of sending quality players to play in the South African league.
ZIMBABWE RECORD SINCE 1999
1999 – Third
2000 – Third
2001 – Winners
2002 – Winners
2003 – Group stages
2004 – Third
2005 – Group stages
2006 – Third
2007 – Winners
2008 – Fourth
2009 – Group stages
2010 – Third
2011 – Group stages
2013 – Fourth
2016 – Group stages
2017 – Group stages
2018 – Runners-up
2019 – Did not enter