The dates have been set for the 2023 COSAFA CUP, which will be played in an exciting new format this year when it is staged in the South African coastal city of Durban from July 5-16.
The new format will see 12 teams take part, split into three groups of four sides, with the three pool winners and the best runner-up advancing to the semifinals.
Hosts South Africa, last year’s winners Zambia and Mozambique will be the seeded teams in the three pools based on the latest CAF rankings.
The draw for the group stages will take place directly after COSAFA’s Annual General Meeting to be held in Johannesburg on Friday, May 26.
The competition will give vital game-time for players and coaches to teams still in the qualifiers for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations finals and provide much-needed international exposure for those out of the running.
The pool games will be played from July 5-12, with the semifinals on July 14 and the final and third-place play-off to be staged at the King Zwelithini Stadium two days later.
It is a departure from the previous format in which there were two groups of four teams and another six sides entered at the quarterfinal stage. There will also be no Plate competition this year.
The new format ensures each country will play a minimum of three games up to a maximum of five over the course of the competition. It also allows for an extra days’ rest between most pool games, a boost for player welfare.
The 21 previous editions of the COSAFA Cup have seen some great performances and incredible games that have been written into the folklore of Southern African football, but only five nations can claim to have lifted the coveted trophy.
Zimbabwe and Zambia are locked together on six wins each, with South Africa (five), Angola (three) and Namibia (one) the only other teams to claim regional glory.
Mozambique, Malawi, and Botswana have all been finalists twice, but ended up on the losing side on both occasions. Lesotho (2000) are the only other COSAFA team to reach the decider, with Senegal the first guest nation to do so in 2021.
The COSAFA Cup kicks-off a busy calendar of events for COSAFA in the second half of 2023 with as many as nine tournaments planned between now and the end of the year.