Zimbabwe make a winning start to their Cosafa Cup challenge
Zimbabwe made a winning start to the Cosafa Cup on Sunday, beating Mauritius 2-0 as the annual southern African championship kicked off at the Moruleng Stadium, near Rustenburg in South Africa.
But Namibia squandered countless opportunities and missed out on an expected victory as the tiny Seychelles, ranked more than 70 places below them in the latest Fifa rankings, held them to a surprise goalless draw.
There were just a few hundred spectators as Group A kicked off with the double-header attraction, but the crowd grew through the evening as Zimbabwean expatriates came to support their side to a well-fought victory in the second game of the day.
Carlos Rusere (28th minute) and Ronald Chitiyo (66th) scored for the makeshift Zimbabwe side, who had just two of their numerous foreign-based players in their starting line-up.
Brilliant goalkeeping from Kevin Jean-Louis saved Mauritius from a much heavier defeat as he made a series of sparkling saves that would have caught the eye of the many scouts from South African clubs in the stadium.
Poor shooting let down the Namibians who had an incredible 28 shots on goal but managed just seven on target. Seychelles in contrast had just four in the first game.
"I will have to make serious changes to the team until I find someone who can score. We can't tolerate these problems anymore," said a furious Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti afterwards.
The four teams in Group A play again on Tuesday but Monday will see the opening matches in Group B with Lesotho playing Madagascar and then guests Tanzania taking on Swaziland.
Both Group B matches will be at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, which was a 2010 World Cup venue.
The Cosafa Cup returns after failure to find a sponsor saw last year's edition, set for Botswana, cancelled.
But the South African brewery, who were the original sponsors, are back in a three-year deal, financing the cost of the 14-team event. Teams are also being housed at Sun City, the casino resort in the North West province, under a separate sponsorship deal.
The bottom eight countries in the rankings compete in the group stage in the first week with just the winners of the two groups advancing to next week's knockout phase.
The winners then go into the last eight with the top finisher in Group B to face Ghana, who are also guests at the tournament, on Sunday and Group A's winner to meet holders Zambia on Monday.
Also entering at the quarter-final stage are hosts South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, and Mozambique.
The Cosafa Cup is in its 14th edition and a popular feature in the region. It flourished in the days before the co-ordinated Fifa calendar as countries were entitled to call up their best players.
But since Fifa introduced specific dates for internationals, the tournament has battled to find a slot in the calendar and clubs are no longer obliged to release players, making it more of a development tournament these days.