Sihlangu players are wary of the so-called minnows ahead of their COSAFA Cup campaign.
The regional soccer showpiece is already in full in swing in Polokwane, South Africa, while the Swaziland national side will only take to the field of play on Saturday for their quarter-final clash against Lesotho. Reacting to upsets in some of the opening games, Sihlangu players, in random interviews, felt there was no ‘small team’ in the region anymore.
In some of the shocking results, 161stranked Mauritius stunned Malawi with a 1-0 win on Monday. The latter are on position 119 on the world charts. Angola, who are four places above Botswana on the FIFA rankings, lost their opener to ‘The Zebras’ by 1-2.
Lesotho, who are 19 places below Sihlangu on the rankings, lost 0-2 in the last COSAFA Cup meeting with the Swazi side in May 2015. However, Sihlangu players insisted the opposition still posed a serious threat.
“It’s an open secret that all nations are improving, if the results of COSAFA Cup opening matches are anything to go by. It is a challenge for us to do even better.
“Our unexpected 1-0 win over Kenya in an international friendly match on May 25 gave us direction and confidence,” said former Swazi international Felix Badenhorst after the squad training session at Somhlolo National Stadium yesterday.
Badenhorst’s words were echoed by shot-stopper Nhlanhla Gwebu, who stressed on the need to fully focus on the assignment against Lesotho.
“It is important to win the quarter-final clash after our good preparations. We’re obviously motivated after the Kenya result,” said the Young Buffaloes goalkeeper.
One of the experienced players in Royal Leopard midfielder Zweli Nxumalo, who was part of the squad that won bronze in Namibia in 2016, felt the COSAFA Cup would provide him with a platform to resurrect his career. He was blowing hot and cold for police side Royal Leopard in the recently-ended 2017/18 season.
“In football, you are as good as your last game. I played well during the April 19 practice match, which we won 1-0 against Namibia. I want to build from that performance.
“We have to play as a team like in the game against Kenya. Unity and dedication can propel us to success,” said Nxumalo.
At the time of compiling this report on May 29, Sihlangu coach Anthony was trimming his squad from 25 to 20 players. The team will leave for South Africa on Thursday, May 31. The excitement among the Swazi nation is amazing ahead of the tournament and Minister of Sport, Culture and Youth Affairs David ‘Cruiser’ Ngcamphalala will be among the high-profile spectators from the Kingdom of Eswatini on Saturday.
By Ashmond Nzima