Eswatini will hope to build on a strong showing at the 2019 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship when they take part in the 2020 edition that starts in Nelson Mandela Bay on Thursday.
The side managed four points in their pool last year, enough to reach the semifinals, which included a 1-1 draw with South Africa and a 2-1 victory over hosts Malawi.
Their only blemish was a 6-0 loss to eventual champions Zambia, who romped to the title and showed themselves to be by far the best team in the competition.
They narrowly lost 1-0 to Mozambique in the semifinals but were then thumped 5-0 by Angola in the bronze-medal match, though that should not detract from their achievement of reaching the knockout stages.
Coach Gcina Dlamini created a solid foundation for this year’s event and was later appointed as assistant coach of the senior national side under Dominic Kunene.
The side will face South Africa again this year after being drawn in Group A and open their campaign against the hosts on Thursday. They will also meet Angola again two days later and round out their pool play against Zimbabwe on Nov. 24 in what is a difficult group.
Only the top team in each pool and the best-placed runner-up against to the semifinals, while this year’s competition has added significance as it serves as a zonal qualifier for the 2021 Africa Under-17 Cup of Nations in Morocco.
The two sides that reach the final in Nelson Mandela Bay will seal their place at the continental showpiece competition.
Eswatini featured in the very first COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship in 1994, but did not make it past the group stages despite a handy showing that included a win and two draws in their four matches.
They did make the semifinals in 2001, but lost 2-0 to South Africa and then went down by the same scoreline in the bronze-medal match to Zambia. Eswatini were back the next year, gaining draws with Botswana (1-1) and Lesotho (0-0), but ended second in the four-team mini-tournament after an epic 5-4 loss to eventual winners South Africa.
They finished bottom of their pool in 2007, despite a win over Namibia (3-1), and did not take part in the next event in 2016 that came after a long lay-off for the tournament.
They missed 2017 too, but returned for the 2018 edition, claiming a pool stage win over Zimbabwe (3-2), but losses to Angola (0-4) and Malawi (0-1) saw them exit the competition early.