THE 2019 Cosafa Cup, which will run from May 25 to June 8, could be the biggest, if not the best ever, as teams will field their top players from all over the globe unlike in the past when the likes of South Africa and Angola fielded developmental sides.
Cosafa, which is led by Zimbabwe's own Phillip Chiyangwa, acknowledges the importance of a good 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) show by the region's teams and have perfectly timed the Cosafa Cup to give Angola, Namibia, Madagascar, South Africa and Zimbabwe the chance to fine-tune their teams for their Nations Cup trip to Egypt.
With high-profile friendly matches hard to come by for lowly ranked and poor African football teams, the Cosafa Cup, which comes in May and part of June,
presents Angola, Namibia, Madagascar and Zimbabwe with the perfect preparation platform for the Nations Cup finals, which start on June 21.
"For the first time in 21 years, our region has five teams which have qualified for Afcon which we are very proud of and consequently must afford them good
preparations pre-Afcon 2019. We hope all the teams will take full advantage of the Cosafa Cup in Durban," pleaded Chiyangwa.
Coming at a time when the European club football season is over, and just three weeks before the 2019 Afcon roars into life, the Cosafa Cup should be a feast
of great soccer, and a showcase of the best talent southern African football has to offer.
More importantly, the regional competition will offer the players themselves the chance to impress and be selected for the expanded Afcon finals, which this
time around will have 24 teams in Egypt instead of 16 as was the case in Gabon in 2017.
Sadly, though, Zimbabwe turned down the chance to host probably the biggest ever Cosafa Cup, but still South Africa is easily accessible to football followers
from the region and as such stadiums could be filled to capacity as fans jostle to watch the region's football superstars on display.
That sense of anticipation is heightened by the sheer quality of the players on offer as from Belgium will come Zimbabwe's Knowledge Musona of Lokeren -- who
finished with five goals in the qualifiers -- and Angola's Cinton Mata who plays for Club Brugge.
Expected to come from the Netherlands is South Africa's Thulani Serero of Vitesse, while Bongani Zungu and Keegan Dolly should join Bafana Bafana from France
where they turn out for Amiens and Montpellier respectively.
Angola are likely to welcome Bastos Quisanga of Lazio in Italy, as well as Wilson Eduardo from Sporting Braga and Buatu Muanga of Rio Ave in Portugal, with
England likely to contribute Zimbabwe's Tendayi Darikwa of Nottingham Forest and Angola's Igor Vetokele of Charlton Athletic.
Madagascar will also not be left behind as they will have to call upon Jeremy Morel of Lyon as well as Thomas Fontaine from Reims in France.
There should be places in the team too for Anicent Abel of Ludogorest in Bulgaria and Marco Llimaharita of Charleroi in Belgium.
A strong local contingent of players will also have a look-in, at least, in teams like Namibia and Zambia although the Brave Warriors will also most likely
call upon Zanatha Coleman, who is on the books of top Spanish club Valencia and is the Brave Warriors' only known overseas-based footballer.
Zimbabwe Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa has not made it a secret that he would be fielding his best team available for the Cosafa Cup as he seeks Zimbabwe's
seventh Cosafa Cup crown and his fifth in the business after successes in 2003, 2009, 2017 and 2018.
This is good news for the followers of the Warriors as in the past, the team's poor show at the Nations Cup was attributed to shoddy preparations as the
Warriors could not attract meaningful friendly matches due to their low world ranking and shortage of funds.
Even right now, the Warriors are not sure whether they will play any serious friendly matches prior to Afcon as first, it was Nigeria, then the Ivory Coast,
and now, it is South Africa, but nothing has been secured yet.
So, the two-week regional tournament will also provide Chidzambwa with the chance -- that is if he wants -- to have a look at players like Nyasha Mushekwi and
Macauley Bonne, who are scoring goals at will for their clubs, but have not turned out for the Warriors since 2017 when the run-up to Egypt 2019 began.
Whatever the case, the Cosafa Cup has been well timed to give Nations Cup-bound teams the chance to finalise their best teams for the journey to Egypt, -- and
also give those staying behind -- the experience and competition they need for success in future.
For Zimbabwe's Warriors, the Cosafa Cup is the time to perfect combinations for a team aiming to reach at least the quarter-finals of the 24-team 2019 Afcon.
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