The 2018 COSAFA Under-17 Championships will have added significance this year when they serve as the qualifier from the Southern African region for the continental finals to be staged in Tanzania next year.
Only the winners of the COSAFA tournament will appear in East Africa, which in turn will serve as a qualifier for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Peru. Given the additional importance of the regional event in 2018, the field for the Mauritius finals from July 19-29 has been expanded to a record 12 teams, up from eight in the previous two editions.
It is the third year in a row that Mauritius has acted as hosts, and for local fans it will be an opportunity first-hand to see the brightest young talents from the region on display.
The draw for the finals was made at the recent COSAFA Cup senior men’s competition in South Africa and has produced three intriguing groups.
Group A contains the hosts Mauritius, Botswana, 2016 champions Namibia and Seychelles.
Group B promises to be a hard-fought won with defending champions Zambia up against regional powerhouse rivals South Africa, Mozambique and Lesotho.
Group C also has an unpredictable air about it as Zimbabwe face-off against Angola, Malawi and Swaziland. The three group winners and best placed runner-up, determined first by the number of points obtained, advance from the group stages to the semifinals.
Matches will be played at the Auguste Vollaire Stadium in Flacq and St Francois Xavier Stadium in the Mauritian capital of Port Louis.
Namibia and Seychelles will open the tournament on July 19 in Port Louis, with the pool stage to continue every day until July 25.
That will be followed by a rest day, with the semifinals to be staged on July 27, and the third-place play-off and final on July 29. The knockout stages will all be played in Port Louis.
A regional Under-17 championship has been played in various guises since the first in 1994 that was won by South Africa on home soil with a 2-1 victory over Mozambique in the final.
Malawi claimed the title in 2001 as they beat hosts South Africa 3-0, before a year later the latter regained the trophy after finishing top of a mini-group of teams.
Namibia claimed what was seen as an unlikely triumph in 2016, before Zambia took the trophy home last year.
Matches will be broadcast on Kwese Sports (www.kwese.com)