Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter

TWO additional nations have been added to the field for the 2020 Cosafa Women’s Championship, bringing the total number of teams to 10 for the regional showpiece event to be held in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa from 3-14 November.

Cosafa on Thursday said lessening of Covid-19 regulations by governments of Lesotho and Eswatini has allowed those two countries to make a welcome late entry into the competition. It means there will be a change in format, with three pools instead of the two that were initially planned.
Group A will have four teams, while Group B and C will have three each. The top side in each pool will advance to the semifinals, along with the best-placed runner-up. The draw for the tournament will take place on 22 October.
Aside from the late entrants, the field also includes Angola, Botswana, Comoros Islands, Malawi, hosts South Africa, East African guest nation Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Eswatini were involved in the 2019 Cosafa Women’s Championship and came close qualifying for the semifinals after recording wins against Mozambique (3-1) and Angola (4-0). But a 7-0 defeat to pool winners Zimbabwe in their final fixture sealed their fate.

They also featured in the early days of the competition and claimed a 3-0 win over Botswana in their second match in 2002, but also lost out to Mozambique (0-2) and South Africa (0-4) to end third in their pool.

They were back at the finals in 2006, but this time lost to Namibia (0-6) and Zambia (0-7) in what was a difficult campaign. They skipped the 2011 tournament but returned for the 2017 finals in Zimbabwe, where a 3-0 win over Mauritius was followed by a 2-2 draw with Mozambique. They were denied a first ever place in the semifinals though after a 1-0 loss to East Africa guest nation Kenya.

Lesotho last appeared in the 2018 competition having missed out on last year’s spectacle. They did not get off to the best of starts on their maiden appearance with a 15-0 defeat in their opener to hosts Zimbabwe in 2002.

Nevertheless, performances have gradually improved since then, and they were close to semifinal qualification in 2011 when they beat Mozambique 3-2, but lost to Malawi in their play-off decider. In 2017 they claimed a fine 2-1 win over Namibia in pool play but lost to South Africa and Botswana.

The Cosafa Women’s Championship has been staged on seven occasions previously, with South Africa winning six of those, including the last three. Zimbabwe were the only side to take their crown when they claimed victory on home soil in 2011.