The TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League | COSAFA Qualifier gets under way in Durban on Sunday with six teams vying to be in the August 13 final, where one side will book their place at the continental finals in Morocco later in the year.
South African club Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies are the defending champions, having eased to the trophy last season and then gone on to claim the inaugural TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League to be crowned queens of the continent.
They will be the favourites again, especially as their side contains a number of Banyana Banyana players who recently lifted the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations title for the first time.
Sundowns have been drawn in Group A and will take on Mozambique debutantes Costa do Sol in the opening game of the tournament at the Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium (12h00 CAT).
Tickets are FREE and available at the venue from three hours before kick-off.
“This is a very tricky draw for us because we find ourselves in a group that has a debutant from Mozambique. We have never had a chance to assess their strengths and they will be our opponents in the first game,” Sundowns coach Jerry Tshabalala says.
“We have to rely on our strengths as a team because we believe in our philosophy and playing style that has earned us great success over the years.
“Yes, we came out on top last year against our opponents, but they may have changed a number of their personnel and players. I believe they have bolstered their team and I expect a different squad this time around.
“We are not going to be complacent because we plan to work hard and treat each game as a final. Defending our titles is the priority and we are ready for it.”
Costa do Sol will be something of an unknown quantity but are eager to leave their mark on the competition.
“It is a given fact that we will face the champions, that is the reality. We will work to counter Sundowns’ favourites tag,” coach Ismael Hagy says. “I am aware that playing with the best, we will learn and grow as a team. It was good that our paths cross on the first matchday, football is made of surprises, and everything is possible!
“We are prepared and without fear of our adversary, but of course we have respect for the African champions. The motivation is great and the girls are determined.”
Double Action Ladies from Botswana are the other team in the pool. They were semifinalists last season but lost 6-0 to Sundowns in the group stages.
“We have been preparing for almost two weeks, though we have a few knocks in the squad, which is a bit of a concern. But otherwise the preparations are going well,” head coach Nelson Olebile said.
“The girls are looking good, this will be our second time in Durban and when you play year-after-year in the same tournament, that gives you experience and an idea of what to expect. I think the fact that we were there in 2021 has already boosted us in terms of how we prepare the team.
“We believe as a team that we are ready. We don’t know much about Costa do Sol, but we know a lot about Mamelodi Sundowns.
“We are very happy that everything is going well, we will take everyone head on. We can’t complain about anything. We are ready to go.”
Group B contains another side from the semifinals last year, Zambian outfit Green Buffaloes, who begin their campaign on Sunday against Young Buffaloes from Eswatini (15h30 CAT).
“We have pretty much the same squad as last year, there are maybe two or three changes. So there is good continuity there for us and that is important because these girls now know the level that is required,” coach Green Buffaloes Charles Haluboono says.
“We had a good season at home and were champions again. I would say the performance was quite good, we also suffered a lot as most of the teams we play against have improved and our strike force did not perform as expected. It was certainly not easy.
“Though we have a big obstacle in front of us in Mamelodi Sundowns, we have to be positive if we play against them. We met them in the semifinals last year and we saw how good those girls are.”
Young Buffaloes are coming off a remarkable domestic season in which they won all 24 league games, scoring 221 goals without conceding any.
“I always train my players to go forward and try to score,” coach Fisiwe Hlophe says. “Our game is about attack and playing good football. That is how I like my side to play and we will do that at the tournament [in Durban] too.
“All of my players are available and putting in maximum effort,” she adds. “We are geared up for the tournament.
“It’s a tricky draw, we have seen maybe six or seven players from Green Buffaloes in the Zambia national team [at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations], but we don’t know the teams that well.”
The third side in the pool is Olympique de Moroni from Comoros, who will also be making their debut.
“It is a chance to participate in this competition and it shows that Comorian football is growing. We will try our best and will use every resource we have to put our opponents in difficulty,” Djinti Ahamada, the team’s communication manager, says.
“We know that we are going to face experienced clubs. But we will fight to get first or second place.”
The top club in each of the two pools will contest the final at the COSAFA Women’s Champions League. The runners-up in the pools will contest for the bronze medal.