The inaugural COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship will get under way on Friday, heralding a new era for the development of the women’s game in the Southern African region. The competition will be hosted by Mauritius, with eight teams participating and all dreaming of lifting the trophy in the final on September 29.
Mauritius had been gracious hosts of the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships for the previous three years, but will now entertain the women’s competition in this age-group for the first time.
It follows hot in the heels of the COSAFA Women’s Championship for senior national teams, and the COSAFA Women’s Under-20 Championship that were both hosted in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa during August.
That shows the COSAFA region’s commitment to developing the women’s game as it now has the same number of championships for females as it does for their male counterparts.
The eight competing teams have been split into two pools, with the top two teams in each pool advancing to the semifinals.
The competition gets under way on Friday as East African guest nation Uganda take on Zambia at the St Francois Xavier Stadium at 12h30 local time (10h30 GMT) in what should be a cracking opening fixture.
Zambia coach Kangwa Kaluba admits as much as they would like to lift the trophy this year, the tournament is also a chance for them to progress the women’s game in the country. “What is important is that we have to understand that the Under-17 is a developmental process,” Kaluba said. “Whatever the outcomes are going to be, we must appreciate the fact that we have got a group of young girls that is going to represent us well.
“Our key focus is on the four-year project that we have developed with the technical directorate. We are focusing on playing the World Cup with these girls in 2024.”
That will be followed at 15h30 by the hosts Mauritius in action against fellow Indian Ocean Islanders Comoros in what will also be a fascinating battle between two sides who very rarely compete at this level in international football.
It is a chance for the teams to make a statement about their tournament intent and showcase their quality as they seek to open their campaign with three points.
Group B will start on Saturday when Botswana take on Madagascar at the St Francois Xavier Stadium at 12h30, while South Africa are in action against Seychelles. The South Africans will be one of the pre-tournament favourites having competed at the 2018 FIFA Women’s Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay.