Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA)

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WITH the big guns hitting the ground running next week, the revived Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Castle Senior Challenge Cup gets underway today with Mauritius and Namibia slugging it off in at Nkoloma Stadium in Lusaka.
Four-time winners and defending champions Zimbabwe, three-time kings Angola, South Africa and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique will join the competition at the quarter-final stage.
The tournament was last held in 2009 in Harare.
Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti, who replaced Roger Palmgren last month, will be looking forward to starting the campaign on a winning note.
The former Namibia international knows that winning the tournament could entice the Namibia Football Association to hand him a full time job and will assemble a formidable team.
“We are here to win the tournament,” Mannetti said.
Namibia are pegged 37th on the Confederation of African Football rankings and 127th globally while Mauritius are 47th on the continent and 182nd overall.
With this statistic, Namibia are tipped to win the opening match.
Having held Africa champions Nigeria 1-1 in a 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifier in Windhoek on June 12, morale in the Brave Warriors camp is high.
Hotto Kavendji, who scored in the match against Nigeria, will lead Namibia’s attack.
Since finishing runners-up to Zambia in 1997 and to Angola in 1999, the Brave Warriors have been a shadow of themselves.
In 2008, they broke a run of seven first round exits in the COSAFA Cup – when they lost to Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Swaziland, Angola and Botswana three times – as they progressed to the quarter-finals before losing to South Africa.
They also managed to claim their first away win in the competition in 2007 when they beat Lesotho to third place in the group stages in Gaborone. They followed that up in 2008 with away wins against the Comoros Islands and Malawi as the tournament moved to South Africa.
The Brave Warriors were the surprise package of the 1997 edition, finishing second to winners Zambia and in 1998 caused a major upset by knocking out World Cup finalists South Africa at the preliminary round stage.
Their last showing in Zimbabwe in 2009 ended with a quarter-final exit to eventual finalists Zambia.
But Mauritius, whose best run in the tournament has been getting to the quarter-finals are eager to go a step further.
Mauritius coach Akbar Patel, who led the side at the tournament in Zimbabwe, has opted largely for tried and trusted players, with a few notable youngsters thrown in.
“We are ready for the tournament and we hope to go far in the tournament,” Patel said.
Mauritius caused arguably the biggest upset in COSAFA Cup history in 2004 when they beat South Africa, who had a full-strength team heading to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Tunisia, in the first round in Curepipe.
In 2001, Mauritius were quarter-finalists after beating Namibia and but then lost 1-0 to Angola in Luanda.
In 2004, their hopes were dashed in the last eight when they went down 3-1 to Zambia. In 2008 they suffered the indignity of a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of fellow islanders, Seychelles, the biggest defeat in the history of the competition.
There last appearance in 2009 resulted in two defeats to Zimbabwe and Lesotho respectively.
Namibia take on Seychelles on Monday at the same venue while Mauritius and Seychelles will slug it out at Kitwe’s Nkana Stadium next Wednesday.

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