The ultimate goal for all the 12 teams competing at the 2018 COSAFA Under-17 Championships in Mauritius starting on July 19-29 is to reach the FIFA Under-17 World Cup finals in Peru next year (2019). That journey starts this month with extra significance added to the regional title as it acts as the first few rungs on the ladder to the global showpiece event.
But there is plenty of hurdles in the way to achieving that success, with only two southern African nations having appeared at the World Cup in the past – Malawi (2009) and South Africa (2015). This just shows the tough road to the finals and it will be another tough ride this year if a team from the region is to make it. It starts with the COSAFA Under-17 Championships this month, where the winner will qualify for the African Under-17 Championships that are to take place in Tanzania from May 12-26 next year.
The field also comprises of hosts Tanzania as well as another side from East Africa, one team from North Africa, one from Central Africa and three slots allocated to West Africa. The top two sides in each pool will qualify for the semifinals and all will take their place at the World Cup in South America that will be staged from October 5-27, 2019. An illustration of just how hard it will be to make it to Peru comes the record of, particularly, West African teams on the global stage.
Nigeria have won the competition five times, the last in 2015, while Ghana are also two-time champions, though their previous success came all the way back in 1995. Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Burkina Faso have all been semifinalists in the World Cup in the past. With West Africa being such a powerhouse at this level, it makes it extremely hard for other teams from the continent to qualify for the World Cup, though the regional nature of the qualification campaign now means they will be limited to three of the four qualification places at best.
Africa has produced seven winners in the past, three more than the next best-performing continent, Europe, while South America has had just three wins since the tournament was first played in 1985. England are the current holders after they beat Spain 5-2 in the final of the 2017 tournament that was played in India, while Mali were the best performing African side as they finished fourth after losing the bronze medal match 2-0 to Brazil.