The COSAFA Girls’ Under-17 Championship will kick-off at the Bingu National Stadium on Thursday, part of the football competition at the Region 5 Games Lilongwe 2022.
It is the start of 10 days of fierce competition ahead of the final on December 11, where current champions Zambia will seek to retain the crown they won in Maseru 12 months ago.
COVID-19 wrought havoc with that competition and only three nations could take part due to the travel chaos brought by the Omicron variant in Southern Africa.
This year there will be six teams on show, split into two groups each containing three sides. The top two in each pool will advance to the semifinals on December 7 & 8.
Zambia take on Botswana in their Group B opener at 12h00 CAT on Thursday, a repeat of last year’s final in which the Young Copper Queens triumphed 4-0 to claim gold.
Zambia coach Naomi Phiri has managed to retain seven players from the 2021 championship, including Player of the Tournament Lubasi Pumulo and Lucy Kajiya, who won the Golden Boot. That level of consistency in selection will be a huge boost to the side.
Comoros are the other team in Group B, but they are not in action until Saturday when they take on Botswana.
Hosts Malawi will debut at the competition on Thursday, making their Group A fixture against South Africa at the same venue at 15h30 CAT a historic one.
“It is our first time to participate in this tournament and we are targeting winning the trophy,” Malawi coach Trevor Kajawa said. “It is a tough group, but we are hosts and are developing future players for our national team, so we are expecting good results.
“We have told the girls that anything can happen in football and we must simply push hard. There is pressure as hosts, but we can handle that pressure. We know what we have to do on the pitch.
“It is the first time to assemble a squad like this, so as a coach I must give them confidence. We know we are a threat to other countries, from what I have seen from the girls, we can meet that challenge.”
Namibia are the other team in Group A and their first fixture is also on Saturday against the South Africans, who return having missed the 2021 competition.
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COSAFA GIRLS’ UNDER-17 CHAMPIONSHIPGroup B
12h00 CAT (10h00 GMT): Zambia vs Botswana – Bingu National Stadium