The Men’s Under-17 and Under-20 COSAFA Championships that will be staged in South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Bay later this year will have added significance for the participating teams.
That is because both will serve as zonal qualifiers for their respective CAF Africa Cup of Nations in their age-groups, a system that has been introduced by the Confederation of African football to ensure all their six zones are represented at the continental finals.
COSAFA will have two representatives in each of the 12-team finals tournaments, meaning the sides that qualify for the final matches in the Under-17 and Under-20 COSAFA Championships will seal their place.
It is a massive carrot to be dangled in front of the teams, and ensures that the silver medallists in each competition will at least go him with some greater consolation.
Africa’s six zones are made up of the following, of which COSAFA is the biggest:
North Zone: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia
West A Zone: Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone
West B Zone: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Togo
Central Zone: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe
Central-East Zone: Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda
South Zone: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe
If the host nation comes from one of the Zones, in the case of Morocco for the Under-17s and Mauritania for the Under-20s, then that is counted as one of their positions filled.
The idea from CAF is to ensure that all regions of Africa have some representation, with West Africa having the highest with four teams, considering that region is split into two zones.
Angola were Southern Africa’s representatives in the 2019 CAF Under-17 Cup of Nations after winning the COSAFA competition that year, the first time the zona qualifiers were introduced.
This is the first time that the Under-20 competition will be using zonal qualifiers.
The qualifiers in both age groups have yet to be played in any zone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but should be completed by the end of the year.
The COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships will be staged from November 19-30, while the COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championships are from December 3-13.