After all the anticipation in the build-up, the 2016 COSAFA Castle Cup kicks-off on Saturday, June 11 at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Windhoek, Namibia for what promises to be a fascinating regional championship.
Zimbabwe and Swaziland go head-to-head in the opening game at 15h00, before which there will be a dazzling opening ceremony that will include the Castle Lager Superfans adding to the vibe from the stands.
It makes for an explosive start to the competition, which sees Southern Africa’s best sides clash, along with guest nation DR Congo, over two weeks for the right to be crowned champions.
Zimbabwe and Swaziland have recently met twice in the African Nations Cup qualifiers, with a draw in Mbabane followed by a 4-0 victory for Zimbabwe in Harare.
Swaziland have brought a strong squad to the competition and will have revenge on their minds as they seek to get their campaign off to the perfect start.
Later in the evening the second match in Group A will take place as the island nations of Madagascar and Seychelles clash at 17h30.
The opening weekend also sees two games place in Group B at the Independence Stadium as first Lesotho tackle Mauritius (kick-off 15h00) and then Angola play Malawi in a fixture that has been pushed out an hour to a 18h30 kick-off.
The eight sides will continue their battle through next week, with just the top team in each pool advancing to the quarterfinals.
That is when the top six seeded sides enter the competition, including hosts and holders Namibia, who face-off against Botswana on June 18.
Ricardo Mannetti’s side played six matches on their way to winning the COSAFA Castle Cup last year but as one of the seeded teams will need to win only three this time round.
But with so many big names joining them in the quarterfinals, it will be a hard task.
Zambia await the winner of Group A, potentially setting up a rematch of the 2009 and 2013 finals against Zimbabwe.
South Africa wait to see who they will play in the quarterfinals with their opponent coming from the top team in Group B.
And DR Congo face-off against Mozambique in another classic clash that will thrill and entertain.
Tickets for the tournament are on sale for N$20 and can be purchased at all TN Mobile teleshops, the Namibian Football Association’s Football House, the Freedom Land Mobile Police Station and Greewell Police Station.
Fans are also reminded that the Brave Warriors of Namibia will parade the trophy they won last year just before the opening match between Zimbabwe and Swaziland on Saturday.
Aside from the appearance by the Brave Warriors, the opening ceremony of the COSAFA Castle Cup at 13h15 will see top local artist ADORA performing for fans. Gates to the stadium open at 12h00.
Zimbabwe and Zambia have each won the COSAFA Castle Cup on four previous occasions, with South Africa and Angola three-time winners. Namibia’s victory last year made them the fifth winner of the prestigious competition.