The COSAFA Cup 2015 gets underway on Sunday with two matches from Group A that will make for an intriguing start to the regional championship to be staged in South Africa’s North West province.
Powerhouse Zimbabwe take on Mauritius and the Moruleng Stadium at 17h30, but before that the tournament opener sees Namibia clash with Seychelles at the same venue at 15h00.
Namibia have high hopes of reaching the quarterfinals, but have had to deal with the late loss of veteran striker Henrico Botes, who was not released by his South African club.
He has been replaced by Tura Magic striker Itamunua Keimuine, while Gaborone United Benson Shilongo will be another late arrival as he joins up with the squad after his club side play their final Botswana Premier League match of the season on Saturday afternoon.
Fortunately it is a short drive from Botswana into the North West province.
Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti says he believes Group A is open and that anybody can beat anybody else on their day.
“It’s a very mixed group and looking at it you have to say there will be no easy games,” Mannetti says. “I think everybody will be a little wary of everybody else. We certainly won’t underestimate anybody. In 2013 we played both Mauritius and Seychelles in the pool stages and although we won both matches, it was tight.
“They were difficult games and I expect it to be the same this year. Then there is Zimbabwe, we all know how strong they are, but we also hope they will not underestimate us and our strengths. We are desperate to go to the next round.”
Seychelles have won just one of their previous 13 COSAFA Cup matches outright, but that was a stunning 7-0 success over Mauritius in 2008.
They did enjoy a win on penalties over Namibia in 2006, but lost 4-2 when these sides met in Zambia two years ago.
The country’s coach, Ulrich Mathiot, understands the challenges ahead for his young team.
“For us, whatever group we are drawn in it is going to be a challenge because of where we come from as a footballing nation. We are ranking above Mauritius in the FIFA World Rankings, but the other two teams are much higher than us, so that suggests we will find it a big challenge,” he says.
“But these tough games will help our boys, especially as we don’t get the opportunity to play the likes of Namibia very often. We went to Uganda late last year and lost only 1-0 in a game where we played very well. We lost only 2-0 away to Sierra Leone in a match where we held them for 70 minutes. This proves we can be competitive.”
Zimbabwe will be seeking a record fifth COSAFA Cup tournament win in this competition as they begin against Mauritius.
The inclusion of Dynamos creative midfielder Ronald Chitiyo and University of Pretoria centre-back Patson Jaure has been a boost to the country on the eve of the tournament.
“It’s a plus for us to have someone like Chitiyo in the team,” Pasuwa told reporters. “You need a boy like him in games like this. He is one player whom you know can produce something special even when things are not going your way. He is one of the experienced players we have in the team.
“We also needed at least one experienced centre-back because from the centre backs we have, they lack experience. They need someone experienced and this is the reason we brought in Jaure.”
Mauritius have experienced French coach Didier Six in charge after he joined the team in January this year.
This will be his first major test with the island nation having coached Togo for the previous three years.
Mauritius have shown some form though with recent friendly draws against Burundi and Togo.
Zimbabwe have only met Mauritius once before in the COSAFA Cup, back in 2009 on home soil when they lifted the trophy. On that occasion Cuthbert Malajila (two) and Method Mwanjali scored in a comfortable 3-0 win in Harare.
Tickets for the matches are available via Computicket at all Shoprite/Checkers stores on online at www.computicket.com.
They are priced at R10 for the Open Stands and R20 for the West Stand.