Holders Zimbabwe are tipping Botswana to win through from the COSAFA Cup first round Group B and are literally bracing themselves up for their second showdown against the Zebras in six weeks.
The Warriors had a first round bye and are only entering the tournament at the quarter-final stage where they have been drawn to face the winner of Group B, which also includes Angola, Malawi and Mauritius.
Botswana opened their 2018 campaign with an excellent 2-1 victory over Angola, but needed a late equaliser to seal a point against Malawi in their second match on Wednesday and they top Group B with four points, one ahead of second and third-placed Angola and Mauritius with the Flames of Malawi anchoring the table with just a point.
The Group B quarter-final ticket will be decided Friday evening when Botswana face Mauritius at the Old Peter Mokaba stadium while Angola square off with Malawi just next door at the New Peter Mokaba.
Although it remains a tight pool that has gone to the wire, it is the Zebras who seem to have caught the eyes of the Warriors camp and the Zimbabweans have given Botswana the edge and believe they are their most likely opponents in the June 3 quarter-final.
Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare revealed that coach Sunday Chidzambwa and his assistants Lloyd Mutasa, Rahman Gumbo and Brenna Msiska have been paying closer attention to the Zebras despite following all the group games.
“Botswana have kept the same squad in place for a long time and we noticed that there are just one or two changes to the team that came to Harare and our coaches have been monitoring not only their matches but all the teams in Group B.
“The Group B log table shows that it’s going to be a tight competition again this year which will have some upsets but from our perspective it looks like Botswana are the favourites and we just have to be ready for them as we should for any of the teams that we will meet at this tournament,’’ Mpandare said.
The Warriors on Thursday morning drafted centre back Jimmy Dzingai who is captain of Premiership side Yadah as a last-minute replacement for the injured Costa Nhamoinesu of Czech outfit Sparta Prague.
COSAFA Cup history also appears to favour the Zebras as Botswana prepare to face off against Mauritius.
Botswana have only exited in the first round of the COSAFA Cup on two occasions since 2003 – 2005 and 2013.
The Zebras were runners-up in the 2016 COSAFA Cup when they lost 3-2 to South Africa in the final in Windhoek, their best finish to date. They have also reached the semi-finals on three other occasions, in 2006 and 2007, as well as 2015.
Coach David Bright’s men, unbeaten so far in 2018 in the international matches they have played which include a 1-0 home win over Lesotho, upstaged the Warriors by a similar margin in the Zimbabwe Independence Cup final at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on April 18.
Mauritius debuted in the COSAFA Cup in 2000 and have played every instalment since, but have found progression past the first round tough. They made the quarter-finals in 2001 and 2004, but for the rest it has been heartache.
Mauritius began their 2018 COSAFA Cup campaign in style with an upset 1-0 win over Malawi on Monday, but were defeated by Angola by the same score line in their second match on Wednesday.
By Petros Kausiyo