Hosts Zimbabwe will get their 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship under way on Wednesday when they meet Madagascar in their Group A opener at the Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo (kick-off 16h30 local; 14h30 GMT).
Zimbabwe are among the pre-tournament favourites as they seek to retain the title they won six years ago on home soil when the regional showpiece championship was first played.
Having qualified for the Olympic Games last year they do have some recent form on their side, while Madagascar have been largely inactive over the last few years. Zimbabwe coach Sithethelelwe Sibanda has largely gone for her tried and trusted selection, but has also included some young stars, and she believes they will shine in this tournament.
“They have done well. Part of them, of course, they have done well in the past and part of them, you know, when it’s your first time really to come to the national set-up at times you are bound to lose some belief in yourself because you are just not used to the set-up,” she was quoted by The Herald.
‘’But I am actually satisfied, most of them have done really well. Obviously, we are ready for this tournament, we are really ready. As we approach this tournament we are just going to take each game as it comes. “But we are going to do well, I can see us doing well in this tournament because the players have shown a lot of improvement and they have shown a lot of enthusiasm in our training sessions.”
There are two other matches at the Barbourfields Stadium on the opening day, the first of which is a Group C clash between Namibia and Botswana (10h30 local; 08h30 GMT). Namibia, who will be led by experienced coach Brian Isaacs, and will be looking to build on their appearance, as hosts, at the 2014 African Women’s Championships when they dropped out in the first round.
They have also twice before appeared in the semifinals of the COSAFA Women’s Championship.
Botswana’s Lady Zebras have yet to win a game in the tournament having featured at the inaugural finals in 2002, and then again in 2008 and 2011.
The second game is in Group A and sees regional powerhouse Zambia take on Malawi (14h00 local; 12h00 GMT).
The Shepolopolo have twice before been bronze medallists in the regional showpiece competition, but have yet to lift the coveted trophy and that will be a genuine aim of theirs in 2017.
Malawi did reach the knockout stages the last time the tournament was played in 2011, finishing second in their pool, but came unstuck against the South Africans again with a 5-1 semifinal loss.
They eventually finished fourth after losing 3-0 to East African guest nation Tanzania in the bronze medal play-off match.
All at Barbourfields Stadium
Group C: Namibia vs Botswana (10h30 local; 08h30 GMT)
Group A: Zambia vs Malawi (14h00 local; 12h00 GMT)
Group A: Zimbabwe vs Madagascar (16h30 local; 14h30 GMT)