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SIHLANGU RELEGATED TO GROUPS

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MBABANE – Despite claiming bronze in the last edition, Sihlangu will start next month’s COSAFA Cup in the group stages.

The Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup is southern Africa’s annual flagship football tournament and this year’s instalment will be staged in Durban, South Africa, from July 5-17. COSAFA has since confirmed the final field and draw date for the regional soccer showpiece. The much-anticipated draw will take place at the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium next Tuesday, starting at 11am. The tournament will once again feature last year’s beaten finalists Senegal. The latter, who are reigning African champions, beat Sihlangu on penalties after a 2-all draw. They return to try and turn silver into gold.

According to a statement from the regional soccer body, this year’s tournament features 13 of the 14 COSAFA nations. Only Zimbabwe will be missing due to their ongoing FIFA suspension. There will be two phases to the draw. The first sees the eight lowest positioned sides, according to the latest FIFA Rankings, contesting a first round pool stage. Sihlangu are ranked 147th and 45th in the world and in Africa, respectively. The seeded teams for the first pool stage are Malawi, Angola, Comoros Islands and Lesotho, while the unseeded sides are Botswana, Eswatini, Mauritius and Seychelles. They will be drawn one by one in Groups A and B until those are full. The teams will be split into two groups with four sides each. The top teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals, where they will be joined by the six higher ranked sides.

Knockout

The competition continues in a knockout format after that, with the losing quarter-finalists to play in the Plate tournament. The draw will then switch to the quarterfinals, where the four seeded sides are Senegal, South Africa, Zambia and Madagascar. The other teams that enter at this stage are Namibia and Mozambique, with the final two teams represented by the winners of Groups A and B. The seeded sides in the quarter-finals cannot play each other in this round, so there will be no repeat of last season’s final where South Africa beat Senegal on penalties.

Meanwhile, the tournament will be excellent preparation for both the African Nations Championship (CHAN) and Africa Cup of Nations (afcon) qualifiers that will be played over the next few months. After mixed fortunes in the first two matches of AFCON qualifiers – losing 1-3 to Burkina Faso and holding Togo to a 2-all draw; Sihlangu will seek redemption in the COSAFA Cup.  The AFCON qualifiers continue in September. “We are excited to be able to welcome fans and the media back for this year’s competition, after they missed out in 2021 due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “While the pandemic is still with us, sporting events in South Africa may have supporters attend up to a maximum of 50 per cent of the venue capacity. Fans must also either be fully vaccinated or produce a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours,” said COSAFA.

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