THE national soccer team, Taifa Stars is geared up in readiness for the COSAFA Cup tournament kicking off next Sunday to July 9 in South Africa.
Stars move into camp today to start preparations and already coach Salum Mayanga said they have turned full focus into the challenge.
He said they are taking the regional showpiece seriously because it will serve as an immediate preparation ground for the African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers.
The Stars have been drawn against Rwanda in the second round of the 2018 CHAN qualifiers for Central and East Zone next month. The first leg is scheduled to be played on the weekend of July 14 -16 in Dar es Salaam before the return leg in Kigali a week later.
Stars squad will train intensively for about three days before travelling to South Africa on Tuesday in time to take part in the tournament, which will be hosted in two venues in South Africa’s North West Province at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace and Moruleng Stadium.
Tanzania will be competing for the third time in COSAFA Cup as a guest team after featuring in the 1997 and 2015 editions. They have been invited after Comoros Islands declined to take part in this year edition.
Tanzania is pooled in group A alongside Mauritius, Malawi and Angola while group B comprises Mozambique, Seychelles, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. The Stars performed poorly last time out when they lost all their three group matches.
They fell 1-0 to Swaziland in their opening game as well as 2-0 defeat against Madagascar that dashed their hopes of reaching the knockout stages. A 1-0 loss to Lesotho in the final group match meaning they packed their bags without a win and without scoring a single goal.
Going into the tournament, coach Mayanga is looking forward to give the Southern African nations football supporters a taste of East Africa football with the squad mixed with some upcoming stars and experienced ones. In his 22 strongman- squad, coach Mayanga excluded skipper Mbwana Samatta.
He also dropped striker Ibrahim Ajib, injured left back Mohammed Hussein and recovering midfielder Jonas Mkude, recalling striker Elius Maguli, who is currently plying his trade with Oman side Dhofar Sc and has also included several new faces.
Players who have been called in the national squad for the COSAFA Cup are goalkeepers: Aishi Manula (Azam FC), Benno Kakolanya (Young Africans) and Said Mohammed from Mtibwa Sugar FC.
Defenders are Shomari Kapombe (Azam FC), Hassan Ramadhan Kessy (Young Africans), Gadiel Michael (Azam FC), Amim Abdulkarim from Toto Africans FC, Erasto Nyoni (Azam FC), Salim Abdallah (Mtibwa Sugar), Abdi Banda (Simba SC) and Nurdin Chona (Tanzania Prisons).
Midfielders are Himid Mao (Azam FC) and Salmin Hoza (Mbao FC), Mzamiru Yassin (Simba), Simon Msuva (Young Africans), Raphael Daudi (Mbeya City) and Shizza Kichuya (Simba SC). Strikers are Thomas Ulimwengu (AFC Eskilstuna – Sweden), Mbaraka Yusuf (Kagera Sugar), Stamili Mbonde (Mtibwa Sugar) Elius Maguli (Dhofar SC) and Shabani Idd from Azam FC.
Defending champions South Africa must wait to learn their quarterfinal opponents having been drawn against the winner of Group A at the event so they will come up against one of Angola, Tanzania, Mauritius and Malawi in the regional showpiece tournament.
Swaziland will face the winners of Group B, which is a hugely competitive pool that includes Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mozambique and Seychelles.
The other two quarterfinals see Botswana take on Zambia in a titanic battle and 2015 winners Namibia play Lesotho in another COSAFA Castle Cup classic clash and as in the last two editions, the losing teams in the quarterfinals will enter the plate competition.
The regional showpiece tournament was first played in 1997 and has been won four times each by South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Angola has three titles to their name and Namibia one.
Long-time sponsor of the tournament, Castle Lager, will be hosting a number of exciting activations around the COSAFA Castle Cup, including a five-side football competition and have also brought on board a number of ‘legends’ from the region to lend their support to the event.