Women’s football back in Africa as COSAFA takes centre-stage

The 2020 COSAFA Women’s Championship is to take centre-stage in South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Bay from November 3-14 in what are expected to be the first women’s internationals staged on the African continent since the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with the football calendar.

COSAFA also intends to stage its Women’s Under-17 Championship concurrently with the senior competition from November 5-13, providing some much-needed international competition in this crucial age-group.

It is a welcome return to national team competition for the sides, who have endured a frustrating 2020, but with light at the end of the tunnel, the future looks a lot brighter.

The COSAFA Women’s Championship will feature eight teams, split into two groups of four, who will battle it out for a place in the semifinals.

Hosts and defending champions South Africa will be joined by Angola, Botswana, Comoros Islands, Malawi, East African guest nation Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe in what is a strong field.

The draws for both championships are scheduled for Tuesday, October 20, and will be streamed live on COSAFA.TV.

It is the third year in a row the senior tournament will take place in Nelson Mandela Bay, where the support in the stands has always been superb. That will be an element that is missing this year with the competition to take place behind closed doors due to COVID-19 restrictions.

South Africa have won the last three championships, and six out of seven in all, with only Zimbabwe breaking their run on home soil in 2011.

But with so many Banyana Banyana players now plying their trade abroad, it is likely to be a much-changed selection from coach Desiree Ellis.

Ellis steered the side to a narrow 1-0 victory over Zambia in last year’s final, just months after they appeared at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. Zimbabwe took third place when they beat Botswana 3-0.

It proved a superb launchpad for many players, with the likes of Zambia’s Racheal Nachula netting 10 goals in the competition which helped her win a move to Spanish side Zaragoza.

With so much talent in the region, there are bound to me keen eyes on the competition again from scouts around the world.

That will also be the case for the Under-17 competition, which has had to be scaled down this year and will feature six teams, including guests Tanzania. The others are Botswana, Comoros, hosts South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Guests Uganda claimed victory in last year’s inaugural event in Mauritius as they defeated South Africa 2-1 in the final. Zambia finished third after a 3-0 win over Botswana.  This age-group is often the first international action for players and so provides a vital stepping-stone in their careers.

It will also be an important event for South Africa, and will be staged in between what are scheduled to be crucial qualifiers for the 2020 FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup against Morocco.

The South Africans had edged regional rivals Zambia 3-2 on aggregate in the previous round and are just one step away from the World Cup.