THE Young Warriors, who have dismally performed in the last two editions of the Cosafa Under-20 Championships, will be desperate to atone for those disappointments in this year’s edition set for Kitwe, Zambia, in early December.
BY HENRY MHARA
They will have to be at their very best, though, to make a mark at this year’s tournament, which will run from December 2 to 14, after they were drawn in a tough group following a draw conducted yesterday.
Six-time winners of the competition, Zimbabwe are in Group C, which contains last year’s runners-up Lesotho, Angola and Botswana, who return to the regional championship after skipping last year’s tourney.
The Young Warriors will begin their campaign against Botswana on December 3, before facing Lesotho three days later.
They will take on Angola on December 9 to conclude their group stage matches.
All the three teams will present a tough test for Zimbabwe, who have struggled in the last two editions, despite starting as one of the favourites, having established themselves as a regional powerhouse over the years.
The Young Warriors are the most successful team in the history of the competition, with six wins in all, but the last victory came in 2007 when they beat hosts South Africa 3-0 in the final.
Zimbabwe crashed out of the tournament in the first round in 2016, which was followed by another early exit last year when they lost out to Lesotho at the top of their pool on goals difference.
Hosts Zambia have been drawn in Group A alongside Malawi, Mozambique and newcomers Réunion, who will bring an extra dimension as an associate member of Cosafa.
Group B constitutes holders South Africa, their traditional rivals at age-group level Namibia, Mauritius and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland).
It is another tough pool to call, with the teams likely to bring much-changed squads.
Only the top team in each pool and the best runner-up advance to the semi-finals, where the competition switches to a knock-out format.
“It is an exciting draw and one that will produce plenty of thrilling football during the competition, but also a chance for these boys to test their skill against their peers from around the region,” Cosafa president Phillip Chiyangwa said.
“The Mopani Copper Mines Cosafa Under-20 championships is another step towards us fulfilling our mandate to provide development opportunities to players, coaches, matches officials and administrators, and will be the fifth tournament that we, as Cosafa, will manage in 2018.
“We are proud to continue to play our part in developing southern African football and are grateful to our sponsors, Mopani Copper Mines, and our gracious hosts, the Football Association of Zambia, for their continued support.”