Cosafa countries gear up for Afcon finals in the Ivory Coast

Rudath Wendell of Namibia in action against Mokete Mogaila and Thembela Sikhakhane of South Africa during the 2023 Cosafa Cup. File photo

Cosafa will have five representatives at the African Cup of Nations finals in Ivory Coast that get under way next week, with two former winners and much hope that they might claim another triumph this year.

The expanded 24-team competition has allowed for more representation, with the Cosafa region one of the biggest contributors to the field with the quintet of teams. 

South Africa return to the finals for the first time since 2019, though without two key forwards. Lyle Foster has been omitted from their squad due to mental health issues, while Lebo Mothiba has suffered a serious knee injury. Both absences are a big blow to coach Hugo Broos. 

“Our doctor had contact with the doctors at Burnley,” Broos said. “I got the medical report where it stated it was impossible for Foster to be at Afcon. Don’t ask me why but the risk and the danger are still there that if it goes in a bad direction with Lyle that he goes back to where he started (two) months ago.” 

The striker position is the major concern for Broos in a squad that otherwise contains most of the players who helped them qualify, and who also appeared in the recent World Cup qualifiers. 

The 1996 winners South Africa take on Tunisia, Namibia, and Mali in their three Group E games.
Cosafa rivals Namibia have trimmed their squad to 23 players, cutting it down from the 28 who have been preparing in Ghana this week. 

The Namibia Football Association submitted a final squad list to the Confederation of African Football before Wednesday’s deadline, with 11 players returning from the squad when they last competed at the finals in Egypt in mid-2019. 

It includes Peter Shalulile, top goal scorer with South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns, and fullback Ryan Nyambe, who grew up in England and played at Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic before joining Derby County this season. 

It will be Namibia’s fourth appearance at the finals, where they have yet to win a game.
“Before we think of outplaying our opponents, we have to outplay our previous performances in the tournament. Afcon is our World Cup, and our aim is to leave a mark,” said coach Collin Benjamin. They have a friendly international against Ghana in Kumasi on Friday to prepare. 

Mozambique have named 40-year winger Dominguez to captain their 23-man squad and also handed a first call-up to former German under-20 international Alfons Amade.
Dominguez competed for Mozambique when they last appeared at the finals in 2010 and is likely to be the oldest player at the tournament. 

Defensive midfielder Amade played for Germany at under-20 level but has switched his international allegiance although has yet to make his debut for Mozambique, who compete in Group B in the final and will open their campaign against Egypt in Abidjan on Jan. 14. They are due to meet the Cape Verde Islands and Ghana. Also included is Portuguese-born midfielder Guima, who scored on his debut in September, and Atletico Madrid fullback Reinildo, who last played for the national team in June when they secured qualification. 

Defender Stoppilla Sunzu, who netted the decisive penalty in the shoot-out when Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations over a decade ago, returns for the next edition of the tournament after being named as one of the 27 players in his country’s squad. 

Sunzu’s kick handed Zambia an 8-7 win on spot kicks over the heavily fancied Ivory Coast in the 2013 final in Libreville and is only one of two players named by coach Avram Grant who has previous finals experience. Iraq-based Roderick Kabwe was also in the squad on their last appearance in 2015 but Zambia have since missed out on three successive editions, failing to qualify for the 2017, 2019 and 2021 editions. 

Zambia take on the Democratic Republic of Congo in their opening game in San Pedro on Jan. 17 and also meet Tanzania and Morocco in Group F. 

Finally, Angola recalled strikers Jeremie Bela and Mbala Nzola to their squad as they became the first team to name their selection for the tournament as early as Dec. 18. 

Bela, previously at Birmingham City, last played for Angola two years ago and is a surprise inclusion considering injuries have restricted his playing time this season for Ligue 1’s bottom club Clermont Foot. Nzola, who plays for Fiorentina, had refused to play for Angola over the last month in protest at poor logistical arrangements around the last Cup of Nations qualifiers in June, but has been persuaded to return. 

Goncalves left out former Portugal international Helder Costa, who has not played this season after terminating his contract with Leeds United. Another former Portuguese international Ivan Cavaleiro had earlier this year switched allegiance to Angola but despite several call-ups failed to debut and is not included. Goncalves said Cavaleiro, previously on the books at Fulham, had asked not to be considered because he has struggled with injury at French club Lille this season. – 

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