Home » Sports » Warriors’ Free-Fall Exposed

ZIMBABWE’S Warriors will reach a new low today when they face the ignominy of having to go into the hat for the qualifying draw of the COSAFA Cup for the first time, highlighting how much the four-time regional champions have fallen since the inception of the tournament 18 years ago.

After disappearing from the radar last year due to logistical problems related to possible host nations, the COSAFA CUP will be back this year and has been scheduled for South Africa’s North West province from May 17-31.

The Warriors have along with Angola, Zambia, and South Africa been the dominant forces of the Southern African game and were always rated highly as the quartet belong to an elite group that has the pride of having previously won the competition.

Zimbabwe have previously won the COSAFA CUP on four occasions with the national team’s history-making coach Sunday Chidzambwa claiming two titles in 2003 and 2009 while his young brother Misheck got the ball rolling in 2000 and Charles Mhlauri added another accolade when winning the 2005 competition.

But it has been a different tale for the Warriors since they finished runners-up to Zambia in the 2013 edition of the Cosafa Cup in Ndola and the fourth best team at the 2014 CHAN competition in Cape Town as they have been sliding down the pecking order of the continent’s and subsequently the region’s powerhouses.

Zimbabwe marked their dramatic decline through their spectacular elimination from the 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifiers by Tanzania at the preliminary stage following a 3-2 aggregate defeat and the free-fall that ensued since has returned to haunt them again with the national team dropping out of Southern Africa’s top six for the first time.

After enjoying similar privileges with Angola, South Africa and Zambia in the last 18 years, the Warriors will today find themselves in unfamiliar territory when the draw for the 2015 COSAFA Cup is staged in Johannesburg.

This is because unlike in the past when they would get a bye straight into the knock-out phase, the Warriors will go into the same pool with the likes of Mauritius, Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho and Madagascar who have to play group games in order to qualify for the main draw.

According to the COSAFA website, the tournament has been set for May to ensure it does not clash with most of the professional leagues including that of hosts South Africa which will end in May.

The regional body said timing of the tournament gives many competing nations the chance to play full-strength sides, including their overseas-based players with many leagues having come to a close by then.

The South African Football Association will host the tournament, with 12 of the 14 COSAFA nations confirming participation.

Zambia will defend their COSAFA Cup title when the 2015 tournament takes centre stage in South Africa’s North West province from May 17-31 as the best in the region vie for the prestigious crown.

Comoros Islands have opted not to compete, while Angola will make a decision on their entry shortly.

“The regional senior championship is a crucial component for the development of football in Southern Africa and we are delighted to be staging the event in South Africa this year and using the world-class facilities of the North West province,” says COSAFA President Suketu Patel.

“This tournament forms part of a busy programme in 2015 which includes our Beach Soccer championship in Seychelles from April 9-11 and the Men’s Under-20 tournament late in the year.

“These are exciting times for the region and we look forward to staging a successful senior championship, one that FIFA president Sepp Blatter once stated was the best regional tournament in the world.”

The format of the team will be the same as in 2013.

The lower eight participating sides according to the February FIFA Rankings will compete in the first round, where they will be drawn into two pools each comprising four teams.

The top team in each group will aance to the knock-out stage of the tournament, where the six higher ranked sides will join the tournament from the quarter-finals onwards. There will also be a plate competition for those sides knocked out in the quarter-finals of the competition to ensure each side plays multiple matches.

The COSAFA Cup was launched in 1997 and very quickly became one of the most exciting competitions on the African soccer calendar.

The emergence of the COSAFA Cup has also had much to do with the rise to prominence and the growth in strength of the southern region in African soccer.

It has given the COSAFA member countries opportunities to increase their international profile and seek further success on other stages, like that of the African Nations Cup finals and the World Cup finals.

COSAFA is made up of Angola, Botswana, the Comoros Islands, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Current FIFA rankings (African teams only):

1 Algeria

2 Cote d’Ivoire

3 Ghana

4 Tunisia

5 Cape Verde

6 Senegal

7 Nigeria

8 Guinea

9 Cameron

10 DRC

11 Congo

12 Equatorial Guinea

13 Mali

14 South Africa

15 Egypt

16 Gabon

17 Zambia

18 Burkina Faso

19 Rwanda

20 Togo

21 Uganda

22 Angola

23 Morocco

24 Mozambique

25 Malawi

26 Benin

27 Ethiopia

28 Botswana

29 Tanzania

30 Namibia

31 Sudan

32 Libya

33 Kenya

34 Niger

35 Zimbabwe

36 Mauritania

37 Burundi

38 Lesotho

39 Guinea Bissau

40 Central African Republic

41 Chad

42 Madagascar

43 Swaziland

44 Gambia

45 Comoros

46 Seychelles

47 South Sudan

48 Mauritius

49 Eritrea

50 Somalia

51 Djibouti

NB: COSAFA countries in bold.

Source : The Herald