Swaziland coach Anthony Mdluli says he will be blooding new young stars in the 2018 COSAFA Cup as he looks to give exposure to a rising generation of players ahead of African Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers to come.
Swaziland will take on Lesotho in a quarterfinal clash at the Old Peter Mokaba in Polokwane, in South Africa’s Limpopo province, on June 3 as they seek to claim the regional showpiece trophy for the first time. Mdluli will be leading the side at the tournament for the first time and believes it is important to give up-and-coming players the platform to prove they are ready for international football.
“We will have new players this year that have not played in the COSAFA Cup before, as well as also bringing back some of our experienced players,” Mdluli says. “We have not yet finalised our squad, we will start our preparations with 27 players and then eliminate down until we have the final 20.
“Most of the new players are from the Swaziland Premier League, but we do also have players that have graduated up from the youth national teams.
“This tournament gives players the chance to experience playing internationally and to boost their confidence for the qualifiers that are to come. It is very important for us.”
Mdluli says that recent friendly matches have produced some positives, but also shown him that there is plenty of work to do with the side. “We have played Seychelles [0-0] and Namibia [1-1]. There are positives in the team but we cannot say we are ready. We need to strenghten the team for sure to get the level of performance that we want.”
The coach is also aware of the threat posed by Lesotho in their quarterfinal clash.
“It is a tough game for Swaziland. When you consider our performance in the last tournament, other struggles of late and how we have changed coaches.
“Lesotho are a strong team. I have seen them play and they are one of the teams in the region that has improved a lot. It will be a very tough game.”
As for how far his side can go in the tournament, Mdluli is cautious about making predictions.
“Every coach dreams of playing in the final, but we have to be realistic in terms of your particular team. For me, I wish to play beyond the quarterfinals. If we are able to achieve that, then we can plan for the next two games to come.”
Swaziland have received a bye through the first round of the 2018 COSAFA Cup, which will be played from May 27-June 9.