It’s all systems go today as the Cosafa Women’s football championships kick off Rufaro and Gwanzura Stadiums with four matches lined up.
The tournament had initially been set for Reunion, but the Indian Ocean islanders pulled out at the last minute due to financial constraints, forcing the organisers to move it to Zimbabwe.
There were strong fears that the country would not be able to host a tournament of such a magnitude within that short space of time.
The Sports and Recreational Commission had indicated that it was not possible, but with the help of the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and Fifa, who came in with accommodation and financial assistance, the competition has come to life.
Tournament favourites and defending champions South Africa will start their defence of the trophy when they take on Zambia at Rufaro at 1230pm, which will immediately be followed by the hugely anticipated clash between the hosts and
Across town at Gwanzura, Mozambique will battle it out with Malawi in an early kick-off that will be followed by the Tanzania versus Botswana clash later in the day.
While all the matches look promising, the fixture of the day is no doubt the clash between the Mighty Warriors and Mehalalitoe.
The match against a relatively lightweight team like Lesotho — who are making a return to the international scene after a six-year absence — presents the hosts with a unique opportunity to make a statement of intent for the tournament.
Lesotho coach Likhatho Mokhathi yesterday said they had brought in a developmental side, and while they would want to progress as far as they can in the tournament, results were not of major concern to them.
“Zimbabwe is one of the powerhouses in terms of women football in the region; they are at the same level as South Africa and are one of the favourites to win this trophy. For us, in as much as we would want to win the trophy, the goal is to give the girls experience. This is a learning curve for us and we will give it our best shot,” said Mokhathi.
However, Mighty Warriors coach Rosemary Mugadza will not be easily fooled. The former national women football team captain said they would treat all the teams with equal respect.
“We are coming into the tournament to win all the games,” said Mugadza. “This is our final stage to prepare for the All-Africa Games in Maputo and naturally we would want to do the best we can.
Every team is a threat to us because they are here to win so we will fight to the end.
We will attack from the outset and the first two matches will be very important for us. We need to win the matches to gain confidence.
If we can manage to qualify for the semi-finals, I think we will be in a better position to go all the way and win the final,” said the confident gaffer.
Mugadza said her girls — who made the nation proud by qualifying for the All-Africa Games after beating Angola in style — are ready to replicate that stellar performance throughout the tournament.
Skipper Onai Chingawo is expected to guard the goalposts with Nobuhle Majika, Ruvimbo Mutyavaviri, Eunice Chibanda and Patience Mujuru providing cover for the agile goalkeeper.
It is in the midfield where Mugadza will have some headaches in her selection of the starting XI.
The department is awash with exciting talents and with the coach having already promised an attacking game, the skilful duo of Marjory Nyaumwe and Talent Mandaza is likely to be handed the creative responsibility.
Tsitsi Mairosi, who had a starring role against Angola, is expected to continue from where she left off while Nokuthula Ndlovu will add experience to that star- studded midfield.
All eyes though will be on chief striker Rudo Neshamba. The 19-year-old has been ruthless in front of goal for the Mighty Warriors and could be once again prove the matchwinner for the team. She is likely to be partnered by the gangling Rufaro Machingura.