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MBABANE – As Sihlangu begin their journey in the COSAFA Cup this afternoon, the message from the nation is loud and clear – bring it home.

After a barren two years, the nation has renewed hope ahead of the regional showpiece in Durban, South Africa, following Sihlangu’s good outing in the first hurdle of the African Nations Championships (CHAN) Qualifier against Malawi recently.

The national outfit, who last won a COSAFA match when they beat guest nation DR Congo by 1-0 in Namibia in 2016, begin their campaign in the group stages for the first time in three years following a poor ranking.

They are in a three-team group comprising islanders Mauritius and Comoros. Africa Cup of Nations-bound Angola, who were considered group favourites, withdrew in the last minute and that move was celebrated by almost the entire Eswatini nation. This has left the group wide open while Sihlangu, who are on position 143 on the world charts, are now the top-ranked side in the grouping. Mauritius and Comoros are ranked 156th and 147th on the FIFA charts, respectively.

firing line

First in the firing line will be Mauritius this afternoon at the 10 000-seater King Zwelithini Stadium, which is located here in Umlazi, which is a suburb of the host city Durban. There will be no excuse for a lacklustre showing as Mauritius have been equally stuttering in the tournament. Nicknamed Club M, Mauritius are still seeking to get past the quarter-final stage of the Southern Africa championship. In 2001, they did make that stage after beating Namibia, but then lost 1-0 to Angola in Luanda. Three years later, their hopes were dashed in the Last Eight when they went down 3-1 to Zambia. Last year, they were eliminated in the first round.

The opponents’ record does not make for riveting reading, but Sihlangu will still need to avoid getting carried away against a closed book. Included in the Mauritius squad is the highly-rated duo of veteran goalkeeper Kevin Jean-Louis and experienced forward Giano Fabrice Li Tien Kee.

 Sihlangu coach Kostadin Papic, on the other hand, has named an equally strong-looking 23-member squad led by Eswatini’s all-time leading goalscorer in the tournament Felix Badenhorst. Young Buffaloes marksman Sandile Gamedze, who had a remarkable season back home, will add more attacking options. South Africa’s premiership side Polokwane City winger Banele ‘Pupu’ Sikhondze is also bringing international experience.

The two sides have clashed twice before in the COSAFA Cup. Both previous meetings ended in draws.  The first was a 0-0 stalemate in 2007, and the second a 1-1 draw a year later.

With only one team in the group making the cut, there is no room for errors. As a contingent from the country is expected here in Durban to support the team; it is now time to deliver.

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