The timing of this year’s COSAFA Cup that will be staged in Durban from July 5-17 is perfect for the region’s coaches to cast their net far and wide ahead of the round of Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that will be played in September.
Twelve of the 14 members of COSAFA are involved in the group stages of the continental qualifiers, and each will be dreaming of a place at the finals in Côte d’Ivoire next June and July.
The action gets under way with the first two rounds in June, before the next two fixtures are played in September, ahead of a final round of games in March 2023.
So the positioning of the COSAFA Cup is perfect for the region’s coaches to take stock after their opening two games, and perhaps either try different combinations, or work to solidify those that are already in place.
It is an opportunity to look at new players and form cohesion within the group ahead of what will be a crucial set of games for all teams in September.
South Africa are the perfect example of team who did just this last year in quite unusual circumstances.
A raft of COVID-19 infections just ahead of the 2021 COSAFA Cup in Gqeberha meant they were forced to change their squad quite substantially in the days leading up to the tournament.
But many of the players who featured as the side went on to lift the title went on to cement places in the campaign for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, where Bafana Bafana were one goal away from reaching the third round.
There will be many players this year across all teams hoping to be selected so they can impress and push for a place in the squad for the qualifiers.
For teams reach the semifinals in Durban, it could mean as much as three weeks in camp, which is invaluable for coaches, who usually have very little time to work with players in international football.
There will also be the chance for some scouting – quite incredibly Group H in the AFCON qualifiers contains three COSAFA sides, namely Zambia, Comoros Islands and Lesotho.
There is every chance they may meet in Durban too, giving each other an early look at what to expect.
Lesotho and Zambia will meet in back-to-back AFCON qualifiers in the September window.
Other COSAFA sides paired together in the qualifiers are Angola and Madagascar in Group E, while South Africa will no longer face old foes Zimbabwe after the latter were ousted from the preliminaries due to their FIFA suspension.
TEAMS IN THE 2023 AFCON QUALIFIERS AND THEIR OPPONENTS
Angola (Group E): Ghana, Madagascar, Central African Republic
Botswana (Group J): Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya
Comoros Islands (Group H): Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Lesotho
Eswatini (Group B): Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Togo
Lesotho (Group H): Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Comoros Islands
Madagascar (Group E): Ghana, Angola, Central African Republic
Malawi (Group D): Egypt, Guinea, Ethiopia
Mauritius (Group A): Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau
Mozambique (Group L): Senegal, Benin, Rwanda
Namibia (Group C): Cameroon, Burundi
South Africa (Group K): Morocco, Liberia
Zambia (Group H): Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros Islands, Lesotho