African Nations Championship winners the Democratic Republic of Congo have been added as a guest nation to the star-studded line-up for the 2016 COSAFA Castle Cup to be staged in Namibia from June 11-25.
Congolese football has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years with top club TP Mazembe current holders of the African Champions League, the country winning the African Nations Championship for locally-based players in Rwanda in February, and the full senior side taking the bronze medal at the African Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea last year.
Coach Florent Ibenge’s side will add some star quality to the line-up for the Southern African championship which also sees holders Namibia and 12 other nations from the COSAFA region compete for the coveted prize.
DR Congo are currently positioned eighth on the African list of the latest FIFA World Rankings and so will go into the draw for the COSAFA Castle Cup as the top-ranked side.
The Comoros Islands are the only one of the COSAFA nations who have declined to compete in the tournament, which comes directly after a crucial round of African Nations Cup qualifiers in June.
“We are delighted to be bringing our national team, The Leopards, to Namibia to participate for the first time in the COSAFA Castle Cup and are proud to take our place in the field for 2016,” says Fédération Congolaise de Football-Association (FECOFA) Vice-President Théobald Binamungu.
“We are certain our team will leave a good impression having made great progress in both club and national team competitions over the past year. We have a lot of respect for all the teams in the COSAFA region and we know that to lift this trophy will be a huge challenge for our team.
“This COSAFA Castle Cup tournament will be another big step forward for us as we build a team that can take us to qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The level of competition will be very high and we will be very serious in our preparation.”
COSAFA competitions committee chairperson Timothy Shongwe says they are delighted to have a team of the quality of DR Congo competing in Namibia.
“DR Congo have shown at both a club and country level that they are among the leading teams on the African continent and so they will bring added quality to the field for the 2016 COSAFA Castle Cup. They will bring an added dimension to the competition and I am sure will thrill fans with the football they are able to produce under coach Florent Ibenge. Whilst we are primarily a regional Southern African body we also are part of Africa and are always happy to include teams from the rest of continent in moving the game forward.”
DR Congo will join the 2016 COSAFA Castle Cup at the quarterfinal stage along with South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, and hosts and holders Namibia.
Those teams will be joined in the quarterfinals by the two first round group winners, to be contested by seeded sides Malawi, Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, as well as Madagascar, Lesotho, Mauritius and Seychelles.
The teams have been seeded based on the April 2016 FIFA World Rankings.
The draw for the tournament will take place on Monday, April 25 when the 14 teams will learn their fate.
Zambia and Zimbabwe have each won the COSAFA Castle Cup on four occasions since the competition was first played in 1997. South Africa and Angola have three titles each, while Namibia claimed their first championship win when they defeated Mozambique 2-0 in the final in 2015.