Cosafa Cup set for lift-off

Bethuel Muzeu in action against Botswana the 2023 Cosafa Cup. File photo

The new-look Brave Warriors have the chance to impress at the 23rd edition of the Cosafa Cup which gets underway in Gqeberha, South Africa today and cement their places in the national team.

Namibia, the 2015 champion, are among the top sides in the region who will vie for the coveted trophy in what is a busy time for national teams with Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers coming later in the year.

Having moved up nine places on the recent Fifa world rankings to place 97th globally, the Brave Warriors are looking to replicate the form that saw them reach the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 for the first time in their history earlier this year.

Namibia open this year’s Cosafa campaign with a grudge match against Angola, whom they have never beaten. Both squads are much-changed from the sides that met at Afcon 2023 in Ivory Coast earlier this year, when Angola ran out 3-0 winners.

Angola have scoured Europe for expatriates to blend with established home-based stars and promising new talents.

With the exception of forward Bethuel Muzeu, who plays professionally in South Africa, Brave Warriors head coach Collin Benjamin has assembled a youthful squad from Namibia’s amateur topflight league, with the intention of giving them crucial international experience.

“We’ve got a young team. We have to give them the chance to play at a high level so that we have a good team with relatively good exposure for the new guys when the Afcon and World Cup qualifiers come around again,” Benjamin said of his side’s objective for the tournament.

The marquee Southern African regional tournament kicks off at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with the prospect of another intriguing regional tournament and perhaps a new champion this year.

Zambia, the record seven-time winners, are seeking an unprecedented third trophy in a row, but will face some stiff competition from several sides who have brought strong squads in preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers later in the year.

Zimbabwe also make a return for the first time since 2021, while guest nation Kenya will add some East African flair to the field.

There will be a sense of déjà vu with the opening match today as Eswatini take on Botswana in Group A for the second year in a row.

These two nations opened the 2023 Cosafa Cup and on that occasion, it was Botswana’s Lebogang Ditsele who got the only goal of the game as they made the perfect start.

They will get under way at 15h00.

Botswana coach Didier Gomes da Rosa has named a relatively young squad for this year’s tournament, but Eswatini have a mix of youth and experience.

The second game of the day sees host South Africa take on Mozambique at the same venue with a kick-off time of 18h00 CAT.

Bafana Bafana have a new-look team packed with young and uncapped players as they look to grow their player pool with the Cup of Nations qualifiers in mind.

They have traditionally used the Cosafa Cup to blood young players and the likes of Iqraam Rayners got a run in 2023, only to go on and become the starting number nine in the recent Fifa World Cup qualifiers.

“For us to be able to compete and achieve our results, our view is that it is important to have more players to select from, but more importantly, players with the required competency to perform at the highest level of football,” stand-in coach Helman Mkhalele said.

“As we observed during the Africa Cup of Nations in Côte d’Ivoire earlier this year, the football on the continent has improved drastically. So, for us to sustain the current performance of Bafana Bafana and improve it, it is important that we have players that can perform at that level without any doubt.”

Mkhalele usually acts as assistant coach to Hugo Broos but has the reins for this tournament.

Mozambique have brought a young team too, but they are headline by experienced defender Edmilson Dove, who plays for South African side Kaizer Chiefs.

It should be a fascinating contrast in styles between two teams who love to play attacking football. -Adapted from Cosafa

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