South Africa prepare for COSAFA title defence in West Africa

Holders South Africa will have an intensive preparation for the 2021 COSAFA Women’s Championship when they travel to west Africa to play in the Aisha Buhari Cup from September 13-21.

Banyana Banyana will be among the favourites to lift the COSAFA title again this year when they travel to Nelson Mandela Bay to defend the title, they have one of the last four editions. The regional showpiece competition is on from September 28-October 9.

But before that they will go to Nigeria when the top teams on the African continent away in a high-profile competition that will serve as excellent preparation for the COSAFA competition.

Banyana have been drawn in Group B along with Ghana and Cameroon, who they beat in the 2018 final of COSAFA Women’s Championship. In Group A are Nigeria, Morocco and Mali.

It is a competition that features the top six ranked teams on the continent according to FIFA and will be used by all the team as preparation for the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers that start in October, though Banyana will have the extra boost of a possible additional five matches at the COSAFA Women’s Championship.

Banyana’s first game in Nigeria will be against Cameroon on Sept. 15, before a meeting with Ghana two days later. The top two teams in each pool advance to the semifinals.

The team has barely played since lifting the COSAFA Women’s Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay last year.   That is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rescheduling of the Women’s Afcon qualifiers that were due to begin in June.They did beat Zambia (3-1) and Botswana (2-1) in friendly matches in April, which extended the side’s winning streak to eight games. Their last defeat was in November 2019 against Japan.

South Africa are seven-time winners of the COSAFA Women’s Championship and are also still basking from the achievement of qualifying for a first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 as the game in the country continues to make steady strides and break new boundaries.

They stormed to the inaugural 2002 regional title, beating Zimbabwe 2-1 in the final as they won all five of their games, scoring 36 goals in the process. That included huge victories over Botswana (14-0) and Mozambique (13-0) in the pool stages.

It was more of the same in 2006 as they won both group stages games against Lesotho (9-0) and Malawi (3-0), before a 4-1 victory over Zimbabwe in the semifinals. They beat Namibia 3-1 in the final to pick up gold.

A clash of fixtures meant they sent an Under-20 side to the 2008 championships, but still won all their games, including a 3-1 victory over hosts Angola in the final.      But their run was ended by hosts Zimbabwe in the decider in 2011, leaving them with a record of 26 wins from 29 games in the COSAFA Women’s Championships at that point.

They regained their title in 2017 as wins over Lesotho (3-0) and Namibia (3-1) saw them into the knockout stages, where they came from 3-0 down with 13 minutes remaining to draw 3-3 with Zambia and win on penalties. That set up a final with Zimbabwe, where South Africa ran out 2-1 winners.

They had to do it the hard way again in 2018 as wins over Madagascar (2-1), Botswana (1-0) and Malawi (6-0) in the pool stages were followed by a 2-0 success over East African guest nation Uganda in the semifinals and a 2-1 victory over Central African guests Cameroon in the decider.

A much-changed side took part in 2019 but still snatched the trophy as a tournament record 17-0 win over Comoros Islands was followed by further pool wins over Malawi (3-1) and Madagascar (3-0).

They defeated old enemy Zimbabwe 3-1 in the semifinals, before edging Zambia 1-0 in the decider.

They had a much-changed squad in 2020 but still breezed through their pool with three wins over Angola (2-0), Eswatini (5-0) and Comoros Islands (7-0), which set up a semifinal with Malawi that was won 6-2 after a goalless first half.

They took on Botswana in the final and got some revenge for having been knocked out of the 2020 Olympic Games qualifiers by The Mares as South Africa won 2-1 at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

South Africa have competed at every African Women’s Championship since 1995, but despite five runners-up finishers, have yet to claim the gold medal. In 2018 they lost the final on penalties to nemesis Nigeria.

They will meet Mozambique in the preliminaries for the for the 2022 continental finals. The teams also clash in this year’s COSAFA Women’s Championship.