By Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE’S long wait for return to the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is set to continue after the Young Warriors failed to qualify for next year’s continental showpiece in Mauritania following their early exit from the COSAFA Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on Wednesday.
Despite ending their COSAFA campaign on a winning note after beating Lesotho 4-1 in their final group game, the Young Warriors failed to reach the semi-finals of the regional tournament which acted as a zonal qualifier for the 2021 Africa Under-20 Cup of Nations.
The Tonderai Ndiraya coached side lost 2-0 to Mozambique, having drawn 2-2 against South Africa in their opening two group matches before turning on the style against Lesotho but it was too little, too late for them to make it into the last four.
Mozambique finished top of the group with seven points, following a goalless draw against South Africa yesterday to proceed to the semi-finals.
South Africa, finished with five points will have to wait to know if they will go through as a best-placed runner-up.
With the two finalists in the COSAFA Championships earning their tickets to the continental tournament, the Young Warriors’ early exit means the country has yet again missed out on an opportunity to qualify for the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations finals to be held in Mauritania next year.
Although Zimbabwe’s Under-20 side has a good record in the COSAFA tournament, the national junior side has failed to qualify for the continental finals since 1985 when they reached the quarterfinals.
The country’s only. other appearances in the continental finals came in 1981 and 1983 when they reached the second round and the quarterfinals respectively.
The current Young Warriors side went into this year’s COSAFA championships with high hopes of finally ending the 37 year long wait but ultimately came up short.
Ndiraya and his troops blew a very good opportunity to get their campaign off to a perfect start in the tournament opener against hosts South Africa where they surrendered a 2-1 lead deep in stoppage-time.
The Young Warriors also got off to a positive start in their second match against Mozambique before fizzling out as they appeared to pay the price of poor preparations after only assembling 10 days before the start of the tournament.
In Wednesday’s match, Zimbabwe got the opener in the 19th minute through an own goal by Lesotho.
Young Warriors forward Tapiwa Mandinyenya scored their second goal in the 22nd minute while Kelvin Mangiza increased the lead in 33rd minute.
Midfielder Bill Antonio ended the match as a contest with a 64th minute goal while Lesotho pulled one back three minutes later.