Wednesday Aug 07, 2019. 14:00
By Nick Said
The COSAFA Women’s Championship enters the semi-final stage on Thursday with a titanic match-up between hosts South Africa and Zimbabwe at the Wolfson Stadium to headline the day’s action.
Zambia and Botswana will clash in the other semi-final but that looks a more one-sided affair with the Zambians expected to advance despite being held to a goalless draw by the Mares on Tuesday.
All eyes will be on the second semi-final at 15h30 though as South Africa, who have won five of the six previous finals, but lost to Zimbabwe in 2011, seek a hat-trick of titles.
It is in many ways a shadow Banyana Banyana side that is missing around seven frontline overseas-based players, but they still managed to advance through the pool stages by scoring 23 goals and conceding only one.
Zimbabwe will be by far their biggest challenge in the competition though and that makes this, in many ways, the ‘final before the final’.
South Africa coach Des Ellis says they have rotated throughout the tournament, but will now select what they see as their best XI.
“This [rotation] is the only way you can test if they are ready for a high level‚ we tried to keep the backline more or less the same to keep that synergy with the defenders,” she said.
“We have also made some positional changes throughout the tournament. When you go to tournaments you need those multi-functional players.
“But it gets to the business end now. We have to look at everybody’s performance and then pick the strongest line-up for the semifinals‚ knowing that players have been given an opportunity.”
Ellis maintains team spirit remains high despite the loss of 170-cap influential skipper Janine van Wyk for the remainder of the competition to a knee injury.
“Just having her presence here with the team‚ she is a motivating factor. She is the leader of the team‚ she adds value just being here,” Ellis says.
“This is a fantastic group of players. We don’t look any further than the next game. We are very focussed on the task at hand.”
Zimbabwe coach Sithethelelwe Sibanda acknowledges the task facing her side, but says they will have a plan to foil the home side.
“They are the holders, it is going to be a very, very tough match. We have to derive a game-plan to contain their strengths and also need to maintain our level and the way we are playing, and improve on our weaknesses,” Sibanda said.
“We have an idea of how South Africa plays, their strengths and weaknesses, that is where we will start in terms of our game-plan.”
Zambia and Botswana will meet for the second time in three days when they clash in the first semi-final at 12h30.
The teams played out to a tepid 0-0 draw on Tuesday that ensured both advanced to the knockout stages, in the case of Botswana for the first time in their history.
Nothing much can be read into the previous fixture as Botswana sat back for the draw they needed, and Zambia showed little ambition in attacking them, perhaps preferring to face this young Botswana side in the semifinals rather than a much more experienced Malawi, which was the alternative had they won.
Zambia striker Rachel Nachula also produced one of the great penalty misses of all time in the game as she fired a good three or four metres wide of the goal, unable to add to her eight goals earlier in the tournament.
Zambia assistant coach Beauty Mwamba admits she was unhappy with the miss, and the overall performance, but expects better things in Thursday’s clash.
“I’m not happy that my player missed the penalty,” she said. “We wanted to finish on nine points so our plan did not work. But we also advised the players to avoid injures at all costs as Botswana had physical players. We were disappointed not to win the match.”
On Nachula’s miss, Mwamba felt she did not take the moment seriously.
“She was so relaxed and confident, you think you have already scored before you have kicked the ball. I am so disappointed, if she had taken it seriously she would have scored.”
Mwamba adds they will be back to full strength for the semi-final against Botswana after resting Hellen Mubanga and Rhoda Chileshe for their final pool game.
“We can do better in the next round, we had rested two players due to [yellow] cards they received. We did not want to risk them as we need them in the next round.
“In the next round there will be nothing to reserve. For the semifinals you need a win and we will go flat out for that.”
Botswana coach Jacqueline Gaobinelwe felt her side coped well on Tuesday, but admits they might have to improve in the semis.
“Zambia is a very good team, very agile players who are very skilful. They are always ‘on’ in every moment in the game, whether they are attacking or defending. They gave us a very good run, but we managed to contain them and were happy with the goalless draw,” Gaobinelwe said.
“We brought everything that we had to get the win or the draw, thankful for that we have managed to go to the semi-finals for the first time ever for our team. We are going to change a bit of the team for the semi-finals, so make sure we match-up the Zambians.”