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Let the games begin

Cosafa U-17 tourney returns after 18 years

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The 2019 Cosafa Men’s Under-17 Championship gets under way at Mpira Stadium in Blantyre today with Malawi yearning to win a trophy they last won 18 years ago.

The competition is being hosted by Malawi for the second time after it first hosted it in 2001.

For many of the boys in this year’s competition, it is a first introduction to international football and a milestone moment in their young careers.

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This is especially so as many of the teams have selected players who would still be eligible for the 2021 African Under-17 Championships, meaning there are plenty of 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds in the squads, giving true definition to the competition as youth development.

Angola may have high hopes of retaining the trophy, but they come with a completely different squad as their heroes from last year are now preparing for the 2019 Fifa Under-17 World Cup that will be staged in Brazil and starting later this month.

The Cosafa Men’s Under-17 Championship proved a massive platform for them last year, with a number of their players winning overseas trials, not least forward Zito Luvumbo, who has since had a trial at Manchester United and gone on to win senior national team caps.

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Just how they go this year with a new wave of stars remains to be seen, but they have been drawn in Group B along with Mozambique, Lesotho and Comoros.

The latter two will open the competition today with a clash this morning, followed by a battle of the Portuguese-speaking nations Angola and Mozambique later this afternoon.

Group A gets under way tomorrow when Zambia take on eSwatini with hosts Malawi clashing with South Africa.

Entrance to all matches throughout the competition will be free, a treat for local fans to see some of the best junior talent in Southern Africa.

Those unable to get to the stadium will also be able to follow the action live on CosafaTV with hugely popular streaming service that take the matches to the world from Cape Town to Cairo and Tokyo to Turin.

The top two teams in each pool advance to the semifinals when the competition switches to a knockout format with the winner to be crowned in the final on October 20.

Mauritius were hosts of the championship for the previous three years between 2016 and 2018.

There have been seven other tournaments played loosely under the banner of a regional men’s Under-17 championship. South Africa have won two of these in 1994 and 2002 with Malawi claiming success on home soil in 2001.

During that tournament, players such as Robert Ng’ambi, Grant Lungu and Mapopa Msukwa rose to the occasion to help the young Flames lift the trophy.

Zimbabwe lifted the title in 2007, while Namibia were victorious in 2016. Zambia won in 2017 whereas Angola claimed the title last year.

Meanwhile, Malawi Under-17 national football team Coach DeKlerk Msakakuona has named the final 20-member squad to compete in the regional tournament.

Below is the full squad:

Goalkeepers-Wongani Chinkonde, Brian Kamenya

Defenders-Clifford Chimlambe, Akuzike Lifa, Stacia Chibala, Lusungu Kachali, Andrew Lameck.

Midfielders-Chifundo Mbofana, Harrison Kapata, Festus Duwe, Davie Tobias, Steve Banda, Julio Chagunda, Frank Mahowa, Noel Sakala, James Chomba, Edward Mvula

Strikers-Chikumbutso Salima, Mike Thom, Fatsani Chiusiwa.—Cosafa/ Fam/The Daily Times

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