South Africa Coach Thabo Senong is under no illusions as to the task at hand for his side as they prepare to defend their 2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships title on home soil from December 7-16.
Senong will lead his side into the regional competition, which this year is sponsored by PPC, having already qualified them for the African Youth Championships in Zambia next February and March.
South Africa have been drawn in Group A at the COSAFA event along with Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, and he says each one will present their own challenge at the competition in the North West province.
“Those are all tough sides,” Senong says. “They are our neighbours and so will be especially motivated to do well against us.
“We cannot underrate any of them, in the last few years there has been a closing of the gap between all countries as FIFA has done an excellent job in supporting nations through grassroots coaching and the upgrade of facilities.
“I have watched all three of them play and I know the quality they bring.”
Senong says the 2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships will be crucial in his side’s build-up to the African Youth Championships, where they must finish in the top four to qualifying for the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May and June next year.
“The COSAFA tournament is very important as a test of our readiness for the CAF finals from a mental, physical and tactical point of view.
“I am just delighted that we have a tournament to play in so close to the continental finals in Zambia as it will help us a lot, we must thank COSAFA for this.”
Senong has already hosted one camp with a preliminary squad of players that he says has unearthed some “interesting discoveries”, and the team will gather again from November 20 to continue their preparations.
They will face Kenya in a home friendly six days later before they open their 2016 COSAFA Under-20 Championships against Lesotho on December 7 at the Moruleng Stadium.
They then take on Swaziland (December 9) and Botswana (December 12) at the same venue, with just the top team in each pool advancing to the semifinals.
South Africa are the defending champions after beating East Africa guest nation Kenya 2-0 in the final of the last competition played in 2013.
‘Amajita’, as the team is known, have won the regional showpiece competition on five occasions, well behind the 10 titles that Zambia have claimed since the tournament was first played in 1983.