The 2017 COSAFA Women's Championship will be staged in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe from September 13-24. Here is a team-by-team guide to the 12 countries that will take part in what is the largest ever field for the regional showpiece championship.
Botswana will be seeking to make the knockout stages of the COSAFA Women's Championship for the first time. In fact, the Lady Zebras have yet to win a game, having featured at the inaugural finals in 2002, and then again in 2008 and 2011. But there is no doubt that their performances have improved since those early years. Their very first match in the regional showpiece competition in 2002 ended in a 14-0 loss to South Africa, but by the time they competed in the last finals in 2011, their clashes were all much closer, though still without success. That opening defeat was in fact the very first fixture of the national team, who are now celebrating 15 years of playing at international level. The country has not yet qualified for a major championship, having entered the preliminaries for the last two FIFA Women's World Cup finals, and for the African Women's Championship since 2008.
East African nation Kenya will be appearing at the COSAFA Women's Championships as guests, having been invited to provide some variation in style. The team has been in good form of late too, having picked up the silver medal at the 2016 CECAFA Women's Championship when they lost out to Tanzania in the final. Kenya will be coached by the experienced Richard Kanye, who takes up the role as a replacement for David Ouma, who has been elevated to the position of deputy technical director at the Football Kenya Federation. Kanyi will be assisted by Mary Adhiambo and gets his reward for leading the Thika Queens to the domestic championship earlier this year. The Kenyan women's national side played their first game in 1985 and are known as the Harambee Starlets.
Lesotho have been regular competitors at the Championships since the first tournament in 2002. They did not get off to the best of starts with a 15-0 defeat in their opener to Zimbabwe, which remains the heaviest defeat in the history of the competition. But performances have steadily 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. Lesotho, known as Mehalalitoe, will be coached by Monaheng Montso and their star name is South Africa-based Boitumelo Rabale, who plays for Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies. The national team has been through a period of inactivity, which means they have lost their FIFA Ranking.
Madagascar will feature at the COSAFA Women's Championships for the first time. The side will be coached by the experienced Joharinirina Rakotomalala, who has been leading the national side for the past few years. Their first official FIFA-sanctioned match was a 3-1 loss to Botswana in the qualifiers for the African Women's Championships, though other selections did play matches before that. The team have steadily improved since then and finished runners-up at the 2015 Indian Ocean Games, losing in the decider to Reunion.
Malawi played their first ever international at the 2002 Championships, but were on the receiving end of an 8-0 loss to hosts Zambia. They beat Lesotho 3-0 in their next game to record a first win, but failed to reach the knockout stages. They defeated Lesotho by the same scoreline at the 2006 Championships, but a 3-0 loss to South Africa ended their semifinal hopes. Malawi did reach the knockout stages the last time the tournament was played in 2011, finishing second in their pool, but came unstuck against the South Africans again with a 5-1 semifinal loss. They eventually finished fourth after losing 3-0 to East African guest nation Tanzania in the bronze medal play-off match. Malawi will bring their strongest squad, including Austria-based defender Chisomo Kazisonga.
Mauritius played their first official match in 2012 and so missed all four of the previous COSAFA Women's Championships. They will therefore be making their debut in 2017 in Zimbabwe and go into the tournament as something of an unknown quantity. They did feature in a two-legged qualifier against Botswana for the 2016 African Women's Championships last year, but the Lady Zebras dominated with an 11-0 aggregate success.
Mozambique appeared at the very first Championships in 2002 and excelled, reaching the semifinals before they were handed an 11-1 defeat by hosts Zimbabwe in the knockout match. They have not managed to match that feat since, but can look back with pride on victories over Swaziland (2-0) and Botswana (7-1) in those inaugural championships. They also competed in the last finals in 2011, but managed just a single point in the pool stages. They have twice before entered the qualifiers for the African Women's Championships, but failed to qualify for the 2006 and 2012 continental finals. Their first ever international was a 3-0 win over Lesotho in 1998, with their biggest victory a 9-0 defeat of Namibia in 2006.
Namibia have two previous appearances at the Championships in the past when they turned out in 2006 and 2008, but have excelled in the regional showpiece competition. The Brave Gladiators claimed an excellent 2-2 draw with Zambia in 2006 and then thumped Swaziland 6-0 in the pool stages, enough to see them into the semifinals as runners-up in their group. They gained revenge over Zambia with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory after a 1-1 draw, but lost in the final to South Africa. They reached the semifinals again two years later, but this time were ousted at that stage by South Africa. The side will be led by experienced Namibian coach Brian Isaacs, and will be looking to build on their appearance, as hosts, at the 2014 African Women's Championships when they dropped out in the first round.
South Africa are three-time winners of the COSAFA Women's Championship, but had to settle for silver in the last tournament in 2011 when they lost out to hosts Zimbabwe. They stormed to the 2002 title, beating Zimbabwe 2-1 in the final as they won all five of their games, scoring 36 goals in the process. That included huge victories over Botswana (14-0) and Mozambique (13-0) in the pool stages. It was more of the same in 2006 as they won both group stages games against Lesotho (9-0) and Malawi (3-0), before a 4-1 victory over Zimbabwe in the semifinals. They beat Namibia 3-1 in the final to pick up gold. A clash of fixtures meant they sent an Under-20 side to the 2008 championships, but still won all of their games, including a 3-1 victory over hosts Angola in the final. But their run was ended by Zimbabwe in the decider in 2011, leaving them with a record of 18 wins from 19 games in the Championships.
Swaziland featured in the early days of the Championships but were not present in Zimbabwe the last time it was played six years ago. They claimed a 3-0 win over Botswana in their second match in 2002, which is their only success to date, and they are now seeking a first ever place in the knockout stages at the competition. The side has not been able to enter a team for the qualifiers for the Women's World Cup and African Women's Championships since the late 1990s, and have been largely inactive over the last few years. Trying to guide them to that stage this year will be coach Mduduzi Nxumalo.
Zambia have enjoyed a recent return to form, having qualified for the 2014 African Women's Championships, and will want to continue that upward curve at this year's COSAFA Championships. The Shepolopolo have twice before been bronze medallists in the regional showpiece competition, but have yet to lift the trophy. They played in the inaugural competition in 2002 when wins over Malawi (8-0) and Lesotho (3-1) saw them into the semifinals, where they lost 3-1 to South Africa. They beat Mozambique 1-0 to take the bronze medal. The side topped their pool in 2006 as they drew 2-2 with Namibia and beat Swaziland 7-0, but this time were edged in a penalty shoot-out by the Namibians after a 1-1 draw. They beat old foes Zimbabwe 2-1 to take the bronze again. The side could not replicate that in 2008 and in 2011 were surprisingly ousted in the pool stages. Zambia will be coached by Albert Kachinga at the 2017 finals.
Women's football in Zimbabwe has seen a resurgence in recent years after the side won the Southern African championship in 2011 and also qualified for the Olympic Games football tournament in Brazil in 2016. Zimbabwe have always been a competitive side and finally broke their duck in the competition with victory on home soil in 2011. They reached the final in the inaugural competition in 2002, but lost to South Africa 2-1 in the decider in Harare. They had stormed into the final with four straight wins in which they scored a staggering 36 goals, including a competition record 15-0 victory over Lesotho in their opener. They finished top of their pool again in 2006, but came unstuck in the semifinals against South Africa. They were beaten to third place by Zambia when they went down 2-1. The 2008 championship in Angola provided little joy, but they finally lifted the trophy six years ago on home soil when they proved a dominant force again and beat South Africa 1-0 in the final. This year's side at the COSAFA Women's Championships will be coached by Sithethelelwe Sibanda.