South Africa will begin the defence of their COSAFA Women’s Championship title with a crunch meeting against Angola in their Group A opener at the Wolfson Stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay (kick-off 15h30) on Tuesday.
Banyana Banyana have been victorious in the last three editions of the tournament, and have won six of the previous seven played in all, and so will be among the favourites again this year in what is a powerful field.
There is an element of the unknown with the team though, as coach Des Ellis bloods a number of new players, including six from the country’s Under-20 national team in what is a new-look side.
She believes the team will be ready despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which means this is the first women’s international competition to be staged on the African continent since pandemic began.
Banyana will also play Comoros and Eswatini in their pool, with only the top team in each group advancing to the semifinals, as well as the best placed runner-up.
“We played the Comoros last year [won 17-0] and I am sure they would have improved,” Ellis told The COSAFA Show podcast. “Angola was also in the tournament last year. Eswatini was in the same group with Angola, but you cannot take any team lightly. You do so at your peril.
“We have a young group of players and the opportunity now to expose them to international competition and we want to make sure we plan properly. Then it is up to the players to execute.
“The first game of the tournament is always the most important and we are working towards that.”
Angola had taken a hiatus from the competition before their return in 2019, and have appeared in three of the seven previous finals competitions overall.
They found the going tough, winning just one of their three pool matches last year, opening the tournament with a 4-1 loss to Zimbabwe that was followed by a 4-0 defeat to Eswatini.
They managed to gain some pride back with a 3-1 victory over rivals Mozambique in their final pool game to finish third in Group C.
Their appearance two years running does show the emphasis that is being put back on the women’s game in the country, after they failed to enter the qualifiers for the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cups.
Before this colossal clash, the tournament will get under way with a meeting between Eswatini and Comoros at the same venue (kick-off 12h30).
Comoros too have a new-look squad and will likely be much stronger, having conceded 35 goals in their three matches in 2019.
Eswatini were unfortunate to miss out on the semifinals last year having won two of their three matches, with victories over Angola (4-0) and Mozambique (3-1).
They will hope to go one better this year and reach the knockout stages, but know to do so they can ill-afford any slip-ups.
The COSAFA Women’s Championship, powered by Hollywoodbets, is staged from November 3-14, with Nelson Mandela Bay hosting for the third year in a row.
No fans will be allowed access into the stadiums, but matches will be broadcast LIVE on SuperSport’s Variety4 in South Africa, and Variety 4 Africa and Go Select 2, as well as being streamed LIVE on www.cosafa.tv.
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