By CIC Sports


The King Zwelithini Stadium plays host to the 2023 COSAFA Cup final on today when second-time finalists Lesotho lock horns with defending champions Zambia.

The Chipolopolo are tied with Zimbabwe as the most successful nation in the tournament and will head into the weekend looking to pick up a record-extending seventh title.
Off the back of two back-to-back group-stage exits from the COSAFA Cup, the goal for Lesotho was to reach the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time since 2019.

Lesotho kicked off their campaign with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Mauritius on July 7, three days before edging out Mozambique 1-0 courtesy of a first-half strike from Neo Mokhachane.

Veselin Jelusic’s men were sent crashing back to earth in the final round of group-stage games as they suffered a 4-2 defeat against Angola at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on July 12.

Despite this defeat to the Palancas Negras, Lesotho finished first in Group C to reach the semi-finals, were they were drawn against a rampant Malawi side who picked up nine points from a possible nine in Group B.
The fifth time was the charm for Lesotho, who had fallen short in their previous semi-finals appearance, as they beat the Flames on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes.

In a game where Motlomelo Mkwanazi received his marching orders, the Likuena were made to work their socks off as Chawa cancelled out Jane Thabantso’s 18th-minute opener to take the game to extra time.

With nothing to separate the sides at the King Zwelithini Stadium, the game went to penalties, where Lesotho picked up a 3-0 victory, with Malawi missing each of their three spot kicks.

Jelusic’s side have now reached the COSAFA Cup final for just the second time and the first since 2000, when they suffered a humbling defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe.
While Lesotho will be looking to make history on Sunday, they face the stern challenge of taking on tournament favourites Zambia, who are unbeaten in 11 of their last 13 meetings since their first encounter in April 1972.

Indeed, the Chipolopolo are sure to be different opponents as they head into the weekend as one of the most successful and experienced sides in the history of the COSAFA Cup.
Zambia have reached the final of the Southern Africa tournament on four occasions in the last five years, only missing out in 2021, when they were sent packing in the group stages.

In that time, Avram Grant’s men went on to clinch the title twice, beating Botswana 1-0 in the 2019 final before claiming a 1-0 extra-time victory over Namibia last year.

Zambia had to work their socks off to reach the final this year, kicking off the group stages with a surprise 1-0 loss to Malawi on July 6, when Aaron Katebe scored an own goal to hand the Flames all three points.
However, they picked up successive victories over Comoros and Seychelles in their final two matches in Group B to finish second in the table and set up a mouth-watering semi-final showdown with host nation South Africa.

Zambia came from behind to stun the Bafana Bafana in front of their home supporters as Golden Mashata and Albert Kangwanda scored second-half goals to cancel out Tshegofatso Mabasa’s 44th-minute opener.

With that result, the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations champions have now won all but one of their seven competitive matches this year, with their opening-day defeat to Malawi being the exception.

The following are their records.
Lesotho COSAFA Cup form:
Lesotho form (all competitions):

Zambia COSAFA Cup form:

Zambia form (all competitions):

Lesotho will take to the pitch without the services of experienced defender Mkwanazi, who is suspended after picking up a red card in Friday’s semi-final against Malawi.

Having started each of the Likuena’s four matches in the tournament, the 28-year-old’s absence comes as a big blow, with Jelusic needing to make a huge call at the heart of the defence on Sunday.

Kopano Tseka and Matlama FC man Rethabile Mokokoana will compete to partner centre-back Basia Makepe, with Rethabile Rasethuntsa and Thabang Malane taking up the full-back roles.

Thabo Lesaoana played the entire 120 minutes of the semi-finals and should retain his role at the middle of the park, alongside Lisema Lebokollane and 32-year-old Tshwarelo Bereng.

Thabantso netted his 11th goal for Lesotho on Friday, extending his lead at the top of the nation’s all-time scoring chart to nine goals, and the 29-year-old should be trusted in attack once again.

We expect Grant to name a similar side from Friday’s victory, with John Chishimba, Kiliam Kanguluma, Mathews Chabala and Samson Mkandawire forming the back four once again.

Twenty-three-year-old Francis Mwansa was given the nod in goal against South Africa and after a solid display, the Trident FC man should retain his role in the starting XI.

Kangwanda has been pivotal in Zambia’s campaign and the Kafue Celtic midfielder, who has scored in each of the last three matches, should team up with Kelvin Kapumbu and Mashata in the centre of the park.

At the attacking end of the pitch, we expect Libamba Moyela to spearhead Zambia’s attack once again, with Abraham Siankombo and Kelvin Kampamba offering support from the flanks.

Lesotho possible starting lineup:
Moerane; Rasethuntsa, Tseka, Makepe, Malane; Lesaoana, Lebokollane, Bereng; Sefali, Mokhachane, Thabantso

Zambia possible starting lineup:
Mwansa; Chishimba, Kanguluma, Chabala, Mkandawire; Kangwanda, Kapumbu, Mashata; Moyela, Siankombo, Kampamba.

Given the stakes of Sunday’s game, we anticipate a thrilling contest at the King Zwelithini Stadium with both nations having a go at each other for the title. Zambia are more experienced at the stage of the tournament, and while we expect Lesotho to put up a fight, we fancy them coming out with the win in normal time.
We say: Lesotho 1-2 Zambia.


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