The fixtures for the 2021 COSAFA Cup to be staged in Nelson Mandela Bay are out with the competition to now start a day earlier than originally planned and run from July 6-18.
Eswatini and Lesotho will kick-off the tournament at the magnificent Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, before hosts South Africa meet Botswana at the same venue later in the day.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all matches will be played without fans behind closed doors, while the limit on the number of people that can be on site at the venues means there will be no media present either.
All matches will be live on SuperSport and streamed on COSAFA.TV, allowing fans from across the world access to the take in the action from the safety of their own homes. Media will be able to engage with coaches in post-match press conferences that will be conducted via Zoom.
The bio-bubble environment is critical to ensure the safety of the teams and COSAFA, along with valued partners the South African Football Association, have successfully implemented the blueprint for these during the four tournaments that were held in Nelson Mandela Bay towards the end of 2020.
“We are in the third wave, so it means our protocols must be strictly adhered to,” SAFA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Thulani Ngwenya says. “Everyone that will be coming into the bio-secure environment will have to produce a negative COVID-19 certificate. That includes players, team officials, COSAFA staff and all volunteers.
“At the end of the group stages, everyone that remains will have to have a second round of tests. There will be four rounds of testing in all.
“We cannot exceed 100 people at the venues, which includes the teams, broadcasters, medical personal and everybody involved on match-day.
“We will make sure everyone is adhering to the protocols. People showing symptoms of COVID-19 will be isolated and will be tested. The isolation period is 10 days, and after that they can be tested again to come back into the bio-secure environment.”
Eastern Cape MEC for Sport, Recreation, Arts & Culture, MEC Sport, Recreation, Art & Culture, Ms Fezeka Nkomonye, says the COSAFA Cup will bring joy and hope to the entire province.
“The COSAFA Cup comes at a time when we are trying to find ways of moving from relief to recovery. The sector continues to be hard hit and this cup brings a glimpse of hope to not only the sporting industry, but also tourism and the economy of the province,” Ms Nkomonye says.
“The pandemic has crippled how we do things, the road to recovery and adapting to the new normal is not easy but we strongly believe that hosting this cup is a step to the right direction. It is trying to find a balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.”
Defending champions Zambia will take their bow at this historic 20th edition of the COSAFA Cup on July 7 when they play Comoros Islands at the Isaac Wolfson Stadium, while before that Malawi and Madagascar kick-off at the same venue.
Six-time winners Zimbabwe are in action on July 8 against Mozambique at the same venue, and West African guest nation Senegal enter the fray as well when they debut against Namibia.
The group stages will be completed on July 14, with the semifinals for the three group winners and best-placed runner-up to be played two days later at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The winner of Group A, which includes, South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Eswatini, will take on the best runner-up in the semis, with the victors in Groups B (Zambia, Malawi, Comoros, Madagascar) up against the winners of Group C (Senegal, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique).
The losing semifinalists will be involved in the bronze-medal match on July 18, with the final to be staged later in the day. Both are at the magnificent 2010 FIFA World Cup venue.