Eight nations will contest the 2020 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships, with the field containing many familiar faces at Nelson Mandela Bay from November 19-29.
Here is a team-by-team guide to the field and their history in the prestigious regional competition, which this year also serves as a zonal qualifier.
Angola were the title holders in the 2018 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships after they claimed the trophy with a 1-0 victory over South Africa in the final.
That qualified the side for the African Under-17 Championship where they took home the bronze medal, though runners-up Guinea later had their records expunged after being found guilty of fielding two over-age players.
Angola therefore competed at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, their debut on the global stage, where they made the second round before losing 1-0 to South Korea.
Along the way they beat New Zealand and Canada, both by 2-1 margins, but lost their final pool match 2-0 to Brazil. It was still an impressive debut. Angola have competed at the African Under-17 Championship on six occasions, with their bronze medal in 2019 heir best performance. They also exited in the group stages in 1997, 1999 and 2017.
The team made their regional debut in the 2001 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships but did not make it past the group stages, while it was the same story in 2007 when they finished third in a four-team pool. They beat Eswatini 3-1, but then lost to Zimbabwe and Namibia, both by 2-1 scorelines.
Angola did not return until 2018, when they breezed through the pool stages with wins over Malawi (1-0), Eswatini (4-0) and Zimbabwe (2-1), defeated Namibia 7-0 in the semifinals and then edged South Africa in the decider.
They were back in 2019 and made a stuttering start, losing 1-0 to Mozambique in their opener. But wins over Lesotho (3-1) and Comoros (3-0) saw them into the semifinals, where they lost to eventual winners Zambia (2-0).
They did take home the bronze medal though with a handsome 5-0 win over Eswatini.
Botswana will make a return to the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship after missing out on last year’s tournament. Their journey began in 1994, but it proved a difficult experience as the side lost al three games to Mozambique (1-0), Zimbabwe (1-0) and Lesotho (3-1).
They got their first win in the 2001 tournament, defeating Mauritius 5-0, but a 2-0 defeat to Malawi meant they exited at the first stage. The team finished third at the 2002 event following a loss to hosts South Africa (2-0) and draws with Eswatini 1-1 and Lesotho (2-2).
Their next showing in 2007 proved a chastening experience as they suffered heavy losses in both games, going down to Malawi (6-1) and Zambia (8-0). They did not feature in 2016, but returned in 2017 and gained a second victory, this time against Zimbabwe (2-1). But that was after they lost to Malawi (2-0) and hosts Mauritius (2-1).
The side was desperately close to a semifinal place in 2018, losing out only on goal-difference after three sides all finished on six points. They beat Mauritius (1-0) and Seychelles (2-1), but lost to Namibia (2-0) to end what was still a successful tournament.
The team did not feature in the competition in Malawi in 2019.
Comoros made their debut at the 2019 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships in an attempt to develop a fresh generation of youngsters to bolster their senior national team. They showed their rich potential with four points in the pool stages, though it was not enough to gain a berth in the semifinals.
They started with a 1-0 win over Lesotho before a 0-0 draw with Mozambique. They were denied a place in the knockout stages after a 3-0 loss to Angola. The country’s football is on the rise at all levels and having reached out to the diaspora in Europe to bolster the national team, they are also eager to develop home-grown talent.
There are a number of Comoros players at clubs in France, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries, and this COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship will give scouts the opportunity to run their eye over more. Comoros have been a COSAFA member since 2006 and have played in a number of senior and age-group tournaments in the recent past.
They have never qualified for the continental or global finals at this age-group level.
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. They managed four points in 2019, enough to get into the knockout stages after a heavy loss to eventual champions Zambia (6-0) was followed by a 2-1 win over Malawi and a 1-1 draw with South Africa.
They narrowly lost 1-0 to Mozambique in the semifinals, but were then thumped 5-0 by Angola in the bronze-medal match.
Malawi have appeared in all but one of the eight previous COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships played and were winners in 2001 as they lifted the trophy on home soil. Their star of that competition was Robert Ng’ambi, who would go on to have a superb career in South Africa and with the Malawi senior national team.
Malawi breezed through their group on that occasion with wins over Botswana (2-0) and Mauritius (4-0), before defeating Zambia 5-4 in the semifinals. That set up a decider with South Africa and Malawi prevailed with a comfortable 3-0 scoreline to lift the trophy.
They had missed out on a semifinal place in 1994 as they beat Namibia 4-0 and drew with Eswatini (1-1), but lost to Zambia (0-3) and South Africa (0-4).
They skipped the 2002 tournament and reached the semifinals again in 2007. A 6-1 hammering of Botswana was followed by a 1-1 draw with Zambia in the pool stages, before they beat Lesotho (4-0) to book their semifinal place.
There they lost 1-0 to South Africa, and by the same scoreline to Zambia in the bronze-medal match.
Malawi were semifinalists once more in 2016, beating Madagascar (2-1) and Kenya (5-0) in the pool stages. Their result against Zambia (0-3) was annulled after the latter were found guilty of fielding two over-age players.
They were beaten by Namibia on penalties in the semifinals after a 1-1 draw, but did pick up the bronze with a 2-0 win over Kenya. It was a similar story in 2017 when they won all their group games with victories over Botswana (2-0), Zimbabwe (5-0) and Mauritius (2-0), but then lost 2-0 to Zambia in the Last 4. They again won bronze though with a 2-1 win over South Africa.
Malawi beat Zimbabwe (5-0) and Eswatini (1-0) in the pool stages in 2018, but a 1-0 loss to eventual champions Angola meant they did not make the semifinals. They also disappointed in 2019, despite a 3-0 victory over South Africa in their opener. The side then lost to Eswatini (2-1) and Zambia (3-2) to exit in the first round.
Malawi have made one appearance at the African Under-17 Championships, which saw them finish fourth in 2009.
That qualified them for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup that year, where they lost all three of their games.
South Africa are the only country to compete in every one of the eight previous COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships and along with Zambia are the only teams to lift the title twice, though their last success came all the way back in 2002.
They have appeared in six finals in all – also a record – with the only time they have not made the deciding match being in 2017. South Africa lifted the inaugural trophy in 1994 when they beat Mozambique 2-1 in the final with a team that contained the likes of Delroy Buckley, Steve Lekoelea and Junaid Hartley.
A draw with Zambia in their opening match was followed by wins over Eswatini (1-0) and Malawi (4-0), before they thumped Zimbabwe 5-1 in the semifinals and then delivered that victory over Mozambique to seal gold. They could not defend their title in 2001 though as they slipped to a 3-0 final loss to hosts Malawi, despite wins over Zimbabwe (1-0), Namibia (4-0) and Eswatini (2-0).
They were back on top in a shortened, four-team tournament a year later as they again secured wins over Botswana (2-0), Eswatini (5-4) and Lesotho (4-0).
The team breezed through the pool stages in 2007 as they claimed victories over Lesotho (5-0) and Mauritius (3-0), and then edged Malawi 1-0 in the semifinals.
But following a 1-1 draw with Zimbabwe in the decider, they lost 4-2 on post-match penalties.
South Africa completed a full haul of nine points in the pool stages in 2016 as wins over Seychelles (1-0), Namibia (4-0) and Mauritius (2-0) quickly established them as tournament favourites. This was doubly so when they beat East African guest nation Kenya 4-0 in the semifinals, but they were again undone by penalties in the decider.
After a 1-1 draw with Namibia, they lost 3-1 on spot-kicks to take home the silver.
They were not as dominant in the early stages of the 2017 finals as wins over Mozambique (3-1) and Madagascar (5-3) were either side of a 3-2 loss to Zambia.
They still did enough to move on to the next stage, where they lost to hosts Mauritius in the semifinals, and then Malawi in the bronze-medal match. The 2018 tournament saw them reach the final again, but it would see them only claim silver.
A draw with Lesotho (0-0) was followed by wins over Mozambique (4-1) and Zambia (2-1), after which they gained some revenge over Mauritius with a 2-0 victory in the semifinals, but lost 1-0 to Angola in the decider for yet another silver medal.
A new team proved a disappointment in 2019 though as losses to Malawi (3-0) and Zambia (7-0) ended their semifinal hopes, before they finished with a 1-1 draw against Eswatini. Given their resources, it is perhaps a surprise that South Africa have only appeared at the African Under-17 Championships on three previous occasions, with their best performance a silver medal in 2015.
They also finished fourth in 2005 and exited in the group stages in 2007.
Their only appearance at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup was in Chile in 2015 when they went out in the first round.
Zambia have been regular participants in the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championships down the years, and are the defending champions after claiming the title in Malawi last year, their second in the regional championship.
They picked up a bronze in their first appearance in 1994, defeating Namibia (5-0) and Malawi (3-0) in the pool stages to go with draws against South Africa (1-1) and Eswatini (0-0).
They came unstuck in the semifinals though after a 2-1 loss to Mozambique, but rallied to beat Zimbabwe 1-0 in the third-place play-off. They played just a single pool game in 2001, a 3-0 victory over Lesotho, before losing 5-4 to Malawi in the semifinals. Again they took home the bronze with a 2-0 victory over Eswatini.
They did not play in 2002, but returned in 2007 and once more had to settle for bronze. A 1-1 draw with Malawi was followed by an 8-0 success over Botswana to see them top their pool. Zimbabwe were their semi-final opponents and after a 1-1 draw, it was The Baby Warriors who triumphed 5-4 on penalties. Zambia beat Malawi 1-0 in the third-place play-off.
The team were disqualified from the 2016 event for fielding two over-age players, but returned a year later to lift their maiden crown. They advanced into the knockout stages with wins over Madagascar (7-1) and South Africa (3-2), and despite a 1-0 loss to Mozambique.
After a 2-0 semifinal win, Zambia completed a comprehensive 3-0 victory over hosts Mauritius in the final to take gold. They could not defend that title in 2018 though as the team surprisingly exited in the first round. A 0-0 draw with Mozambique was followed by a 1-0 win over Lesotho, but their fate was sealed by a 2-1 loss to South Africa.
They romped to the trophy last year, recording wins over Eswatini (6-0), South Africa (7-0) and Malawi (3-2) in the pool stages, followed by a 2-0 victory over Angola in the semifinals, and a win by the same scoreline in the final against Mozambique.
Zambia have only appeared at the African Under-17 Championships once before, making their debut in 2015, but bowing out in the first round.
For all their prowess as a regional powerhouse, Zimbabwe have only made the final of the COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship on one occasion, when they lifted the trophy in 2007. They reached the semifinals in 1994 after starting with a 0-0 draw against Lesotho, but following that up with a win over Botswana (1-0) and a draw with Mozambique (2-2), which proved enough.
They lost 5-1 to South Africa in the semifinal though, and were beaten 1-0 by Zambia in the bronze-medal match. They exited in the first round in 2001 after a 1-0 loss to South Africa and a 3-2 victory over Namibia, and did not compete in 2002.
Their crowning glory came in the 2007 competition as they topped their pool wins win over Angola (2-1) and Eswatini (3-1), that had followed a 1-1 draw with Namibia. They defeated Zambia 5-4 on penalties in the semifinals after a 1-1 draw, and then edged South Africa on spot-kicks (4-2 after a 1-1 draw) in the decider. The team did not compete in 2016 and lost all three pool matches in 2017, going down to Mauritius (1-0), Malawi (5-0) and Botswana (2-1).
It was a similar story in 2018 as they lost to Eswatini (3-2), Malawi (5-0) and Angola (2-1), and the team did not compete in 2019.
It means their last outright win (without penalties) in this competition was 13 years ago in the pool stages against Eswatini (3-1).