Best of Southern, Central and East Africa clash
PORT ELIZABETH – The Cosafa Women’s Championship starts in Nelson Mandela Bay on Wednesday as the best of Southern, Central and East Africa clash.
Cameroon and Uganda will add some spice to the lineup that includes 12 teams, all vying to depose hosts South Africa as champions of the regional competition.
South Africa have assembled their strongest squad, so too fellow African Women’s Championship qualifiers Zambia and Cameroon, while Zimbabwe are also a traditional power in the region.
That quartet will likely be favourites for the title, but among the remaining eight sides there are plenty who could rise to the challenge and spring a surprise.
“We must commend Cosafa for putting together such a powerful field of 12 teams, this will provide great competition for all the countries,” said Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis.
“It is going to be very tough to defend our title and we cannot take any team for granted, so we are looking forward to a great competition. We will be ready and for us there is the obvious goal as well of preparing for the African Women’s Championship as well. We have seen tremendous growth in recent years in this region and I am excited to see how the competition unfolds.”
The hosts open their Group A campaign on Wednesday against Madagascar at the Wolfson Stadium at 3.30pm.
“It is important we make a good start to set the tone for the rest of the group play, but we know Madagascar are an enterprising team and we will have to be at our best,” added Ellis.
Before that is the opening clash of the tournament as Botswana take on Malawi in Group A at the same venue at 10am.
This will be a crucial first clash for both sides if they have ambition of reaching the semifinals, with only the top team in each pool and the best-placed runner-up advancing to the knockout stages.
“I am confident that we are not going just to add numbers but to compete,” said Gaoletlhoo Nkutlusang, coach of Botswana.
“I am comfortable with any country that we play against.”
The other match on the opening day sees Group C rivals Swaziland and Uganda clash, also at the Wolfson Stadium at 1pm.
Uganda are fresh from a runners-up spot at the Cecafa Women’s Championship and are eager to impress against what is arguably a tougher field.
“It is such a good opportunity for us to be invited to the Cosafa Women’s Championship and we will do our best to improve our game,” said Faridah Bulega, coach of Uganda.
“It is our first time and we know there are many strong teams in the field, but we will do our best and any positive results that come our way we will truly appreciate. It is a difficult draw for us, but any of the 11 teams we could have got would have presented a challenge.”
Banyana are the defending champions in the Cosafa Women’s Championship having claimed the title last year with a 2-1 win over Zimbabwe in the final in Bulawayo.
South Africa has won four of the five previous tournaments played, with their run broken only by Zimbabwe, who claimed the title on home soil in 2011, beating Banyana in the final. – African News Agency (ANA)