Next week's Cosafa Cup - facts‚ format‚ favourites and everything else
South Africa host the Cosafa Castle Cup for the second time in three years‚ with the event kicking off at the Moruleng Stadium on Sunday.
A total of 14 countries compete but the first week sees only the bottom eight in the rankings involved and South Africa have to wait until next weekend’s quarterfinals before they begin the defence of the title they won in Namibia last year.
New coach Stuart Baxter has yet to name a squad but said he will take the bulk of the Under-20 side that competed at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea last month.
Premier Soccer League players are all either on holiday or returning to preseason training with their clubs‚ who are under no obligation to release players for the tournament.
These are five things to know about the tournament:
It is 20 years now since the first Cosafa Castle Cup was hosted and it has been largely a development tournament although most countries have sought to field strong squads‚ except South Africa who have never fully embraced the event.
Before the introduction of the coordinated Fifa international calendar‚ Cosafa Castle Cup matches were sprinkled throughout the year and countries like Zimbabwe used to bring back players from overseas to strengthen their side‚ like Peter Ndlovu when he was still in the Premier League.
Eight countries play a hectic week-long schedule in a group competition‚ starting on Sunday and running through until next Friday.
These are lowest-ranked teams and because of poor results lately include former winners Angola and Zimbabwe‚ who are fancied to win their respective groups and advance.
The top six seeds (SA‚ Botswana‚ Namibia‚ Lesotho‚ Swaziland and Zambia) join at the quarterfinal stage and play a knockout format. South Africa’s first game is on Sunday‚ July 2 against the winner of Group A – probably Angola.
The North West government is again bankrolling the event with the teams staying at Sun City and playing their matches at the Moruleng Stadium and Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace‚ which hosts the final on Sunday‚ July 8.
That will be one day after local club Platinum Stars conclude their participation in the Caf Confederation Cup with a home game against Swazi side Mbabane Swallows.
Angola have for the first time in years named a strong squad as they look ahead to the Chan (African Nations Championship) qualifiers later in July. New coach Beto Bianchi has the best players from the Angolan league available‚ except for those from Recreativo Libolo‚ who are competing in the Confederation Cup.
Zimbabwe have five South African-based players in their squad while Zambia are always a force to be reckoned with‚ as evidenced when they beat Bafana in a friendly at Moruleng earlier this month.
South Africa did not win the competition until its sixth edition in 2002 but have since added three more titles (2007‚ 2008 and last year). Zambia won the first two editions in 1997 and 1998 and two more after that.
Zimbabwe have also won four times‚ Angola three times and Namibia were surprise victors the last time the annual southern African championship was hosted in the North West Province in 2015.
The crowds are not excepted to be good but the stands are at least filled with scouts from PSL clubs.
Over the years gems like Robert Nauseb‚ Mohamed Ouseb‚ Tinashe Nengomasha and Lehlohonolo Seema have been spotted first at the tournament and gone on to become stalwarts in the South African league. Among the coaches who always put in an appearance at a game or two is championship-winning Bidvest Wits boss Gavin Hunt.