AFTER holding on to the title for three years without any challenge, holders, Zimbabwe begin their quest to defend the COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup today (Saturday) with a tough quarter-final battle against Malawi at Nkoloma Stadium in Lusaka.
In this US170, 000 (about K918, 000)-sponsored Castle sponsored tournament, fierce southern African rivals, South Africa and Namibia would also clash at the same venue in the other quarter-final slated for the Zambian capital this afternoon.
Being the last winners of the COSAFA in 2009 before the annual event disappeared from the calendar, Zimbabwe would hope to return to the party on high and secure a record fifth regional title.
Zimbabwe would be looking forward to retain the championship they won after beating Zambia 3-1 at Rufaro Stadium in Harare in 2009 when they hosted the tournament.
Klaus-Dieter Pagels, the German, whose reign at the Warriors ends this month-end, has assembled a relatively new squad which will come up against a largely experienced Malawian team.
Pagels is under pressure to perform, having failed win a competitive game for Zimbabwe.
But Malawi, the two-time COSAFA Cup finalists, are looking to better that record with Belgian coach, Tom Saintfiet naming five experienced players who include veteran midfielder, Joseph Kamwendo in his squad.
Winner of the match will face either Angola or Lesotho in the July 17 semi-finals at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
In the lunchtime quarter-final kick-off, South Africa will clash with gusty neighbours, Namibia in a match that pits mentor against student.
Namibia care-taker coach, Ricardo Mannetti won the South African league title with Santos in 2002 under the tutelage of now Bafana Bafana trainer, Gordon Igesund.
Igesund, who only brought six players with previous international experience to Zambia, is also relishing the Brave Warriors' challenge.
While South Africa, like Zambia and Angola, have won the regional tournament three times, Namibia are yet to lay their hands on the coveted trophy.
Zambia or Mozambique will be lying in wait for the winner between South Africa and Namibia in the semi-finals.
The winner of the 2013 COSAFA Cup final on July 20 is assured of R500,000 (about K275,000).