Eswatini go for experience in 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship

Eswatini coach Dumisani Makhanya has named a squad of 20 players for the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship that will be staged in Nelson Mandela Bay from September 28-October 9.

There are five players from the Manzini Wanderers side that competed at the recent TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League | COSAFA Qualifiers in Durban, including experienced forward Nomvula Sanga.

But the majority of the players come from the Young Buffaloes club, who have seven players in the group – which is largely experienced with six players over the age of 30. That includes 36-year-old midfielder Nokuthula Dlamini.

There is some youth in the group too, including a trio of 18-year-olds in goalkeeper Gcinile Dlamini, defender Samkelisiwe Malinga and Nonjabuliso Mokgale.

Eswatini are in Group C and open their campaign against Zambia next Thursday. They will then face Uganda three days later, before they finish their pool play against Namibia on Oct. 5.

Only the top team in each of the three groups and the best placed runner-up advance to the semifinals.

Eswatini featured in the early days of the COSAFA Women’s Championships and after a brief hiatus have now returned to play in the last five instalments of the regional showpiece competition.

They are awaiting their first qualification for the knockout stages but will hope to make steady progress towards that and could perhaps spring a surprise this year.

Eswatini claimed a 3-0 win over Botswana in their second match in 2002, their first win on their maiden appearance, but also lost out to Mozambique (0-2) and South Africa (0-4) to end third in their pool.

They were back at the finals in 2006, but this time lost to Namibia (0-6) and Zambia (0-7) in what was a difficult campaign.

The country skipped the 2011 tournament but returned for the 2017 finals in Zimbabwe, where a 3-0 win over Mauritius was followed by a 2-2 draw with Mozambique. They were denied a first ever place in the semifinals though after a 1-0 loss to East Africa guest nation Kenya.

The following year proved a harsher experience as they lost all three games, going down to East African guests Uganda (4-3), Zimbabwe (3-0) and Namibia (4-1) to finish bottom of the pool.

The side were much improved in 2019 as they won two of their three games, but still narrowly missed out on the semifinals.

A 3-1 victory over Mozambique was followed by a thumping 4-0 success over Angola. But they came unstuck against Zimbabwe, going down 7-0 in their final pool match to bow out.

They could not match that in 2020 having been drawn in a tough first round pool, where they beat Comoros Islands 4-2, but then lost to South Africa (5-0) and Angola (4-3).

The team entered the qualifiers for the 2018 African Women’s Championship, which also served as the preliminaries for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup but went down 3-1 on aggregate to Lesotho in the first round.

They will face COSAFA rivals Zimbabwe in the preliminaries for the 2022 continental finals.

Eswatini squad:

Goalkeepers: Sukoluhle Sibandze (Young Buffaloes), Gcinile Dlamini (AS Interladies)

Defenders: Samkelisiwe Malinga (AS Interladies), Futhie Dlamini (Royal Leopards), Thandeka Mbatha, Welile Ndwandwa (both Manzini Wanderers), Noxolo Malinga, Thulisile Dvuba (both Young Buffaloes), Sibongile Ngwenya (Unattached)

Midfielders: Nokuthula Dlamini, Sikhanyiso Magagula, Tenanile Ngcamphalala (all Young Buffaloes), Phumzile Dlamini (Royal Leopards), Mazwi Dube (Manzini Wanderers), Simangele Sikhondze (Elangeni Ladies)

Strikers: Siphesihle Dlamini, Nonjabuliso Mokgale (both Royal Leopards), Nomvula Sanga (Manzini Wanderers), Sibonelo Gwebu (Mbabane Swallwos), Celiwe Nkambule (Young Buffaloes)