HARARE - Angola have dealt Cosafa the latest of a series of blows when they announced their withdrawal from the annual tournament at the eleventh hour.
The regional fiesta roars into life in Durban, South Africa, this Saturday.
But the celebratory mood which normally characterises the start of the tournament has been diluted by the rather late pull-out by Angola.
That Cosafa have tried but failed to secure a replacement after combing across the continent didn’t aid matters either.
The Palancas Negras now risk attracting a huge fine from the bloc but after Zimbabwe also reneged on their earlier position to host the tournament, the latest incident has put into perspective whether Cosafa members attach to the tournament the seriousness it deserves.
Angola were supposed to play in Group A along with Comoros, Eswatini and Mauritius.
Zimbabwe withdrew from hosting the tournament, having previously agreed without consulting relevant authorities, coupled by Angola’s pull-out citing “the need to prepare for AFCON and that the local league is still running”, a development observers say rather paints a gloomy image of football in this part of Africa.
The Cosafa tournament is primarily designed to aid the development of the game in the Southern African region.
Big stars to emerge from Southern Africa, including former Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari, honed their skills in this tournament.
Record winners Zimbabwe still believe this is a good enough tournament to give their players a competitive environment.
National team coach Sunday Chidzambwa has since revealed that he is treating this year’s Cosafa tournament with as much respect as he is giving to the AFCON.
He is probably the standout coach out of the cast who has sought to take advantage of the timing of the tournament in relation to the AFCON, which starts exactly 12 days after the Cosafa final.
In separating the regional contest with the continental competition by a matter of days, Cosafa thought they would be affording member countries who are going to AFCON with a perfect opportunity to fine-tune their teams before plunging into the 24-team tournament in Egypt.
Yet, Madagascar, who will be making their maiden berth at the biannual event, announced they would not be in a position to take part in this year’s edition of Cosafa.
Angola have followed suit while the hosts have included predominantly Under-23 members in their Cosafa team.
Even guest team Uganda, who along with Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho and Botswana will join Cosafa at the quarter final stage, will have a team of fringe players at the tournament.
For that, Chidzambwa is facing acute criticism at home as fans are questioning the logic behind taking his crème de la crème to a tournament which all other teams are taking their developmental sides.
Chidzambwa has actually revealed that he will select his final 23-member squad for AFCON based on Cosafa performances.
He is taking the Cosafa tournament seriously and will take all the 34 players he has picked to Durban where he will cut the squad to 23 who will proceed to AFCON.
“This is a tournament which I see as a perfect platform for me to assess my players before going to Egypt for the AFCON tournament.
“I am taking the event seriously and it will work that way. This is a development arena but in this case we will use it as a preparatory. It was timed perfectly,” said Chidzambwa.