Southern Africa’s national teams converge on Polokwane in the north of South Africa for the next fortnight to decide the identity of this year’s southern African championship as 14 countries battle it out for the COSAFA Cup.
The regional championship has long been regarded as the biggest event of its kind in world football and is again expected to be a tightly contested affair.
Zimbabwe, who came through a gruelling schedule to win last year’s competition for a record fifth time, begin the defence of their title in the second round and can expect a tough test from hosts South Africa and Zambia, who have both been champions on four previous occasions.
The tournament starts with eight teams divided into two groups for the opening week of competition with the two group winners then advancing to the knockout stage where they are joined by the top six ranked nations.
Madagascar and Mozambique, who have both threatened to upset the odds at recent tournaments, kick-off proceeding in Sunday’s opening game, followed by an island derby between the Comoros Islands and Seychelles, also in Group A.
Angola, who have won the competitions three times, head a strong field in Group B where they must get past Botswana and Malawi, both previous runners-ups, and Mauritius.
The schedule is taxing one for the eight first round competitors who play a game every second day with only the group winner advancing.
There are two matches every day from Sunday through to next Friday, June 1, in the first round with the games played at both the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium in the centre of Polokwane and the Seshego Stadium, on the outskirts of the city.
The winner of Group A have been drawn against South Africa in the quarter-finals on Sunday, June 3 while Group B’s top team take on Zimbabwe the same day.
The first two quarter-final fixtures on Saturday, June 2 see Zambia against the 2015 winners Namibia and then Lesotho taking on Swaziland.
It is the first time in 10 years that all 14 member nations are competing as the Comoros return to the field for the first time in 2008.
“Looking at the squads selected, this promises to be a very tough competition. The countries are all coming with top teams and it is difficult to see who is going to come out on top,” said COSAFA’s chairman of competitions, Timothy Shongwe of Swaziland.