The TotalEnergies AFCON U20 Egypt 2023 COSAFA Qualifiers officially kick off tomorrow afternoon, with some mouth-watering ties lined up to set the tone for what promises to be a highly entertaining football spectacle in eSwatini.
Tournament favourites, Zambia lock horns with Mauritius in the 12h30 kick-off, before the hosts, eSwatini face off against Botswana in the 15h30 fixture.
Zambia, who boast the most impressive COSAFA U20 Championship record with 11 titles to their name, face a spirited Mauritius side who will be hoping to make history this year by making it out of the group stages for the first time since making their debut back in 2000.
With Young Chipolopolo being tipped as one of the tournaments favourites, head coach Chisi Mbewe has made his intentions quite clear for his side’s mission in eSwatini.
“We have two objectives for this year’s competition. One is to reach the finals which will make us achieve the second objective of qualifying for the AFCON. We have missed out in the last edition, so we have a huge task here and our concentration as the technical bench, staff and players is fully on the competition” he said.
His counterpart on the opposite end, Twaleb Fatehmamode has also highlighted that Mauritius is well prepared and will be aiming to do well this year.
“The preparations have went very well for us. We have been training very hard over the past two weeks, with two sessions a day. The players are aware of what awaits them. It won’t be easy but we have to give our best and keep improving”, said Twaleb.
Looking at the second fixture of the day, tournament hosts, eSwatini will be hoping to be buoyed by their home support when they face off against Botswana.
The hosts’ last impressive showing was back in 2002 when they made it out of the group stages before losing out to South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Speaking to COSAFA Media ahead of his side’s training session at Somhlolo Stadium, coach Mduduzi Nxumalo said the team understood the pressure that came with being hosts but also pointed out that his boys were equally optimistic about doing well.
“Pressure is always there, whether you are hosting or not. The U20 team has not been doing well and now that we are at home, everyone is expecting the team to at least qualify. However, we are optimistic that the team will qualify and with the preparations that we had, accompanied with our boys’ understanding of the magnitude of the tournament, the team can do well”, said Nxumalo.
The hosts will be required to dig deep against the Young Zebras, who are looking at emulating their 2009 and 2011 feats that saw them finish at an impressive third position to take home bronze medals in both editions.
Coach Oupa Kowa interestingly urged his team to draw inspiration from the senior women’s team, whom he believes have unlocked the nation’s luck following their historic Women’s AFCON quarter-final finish in Morocco this year.
“We are here, and we are positive that we will get a good result because we want to believe that when our ladies team went to Morocco, they unhooked something that was holding onto Botswana and we want to piggy bag on that and get a positive result. If we can get two positive results out of the group, positive being wins, then we should be able to make it out of the group”, said a confident Kowa.