The coaches are not yet convinced but the new format of the Cosafa Castle Cup is certainly proving a test of mettle for the countries of the southern African region.

Zimbabwe emerged victors of the latest two-day mini-tournament in the annual regional championship, winning two matches in successive days to progress to the final round of the competition.

It was by getting his side to pace themselves and allow the ball to do the work that Zimbabwe coach Charles Mhlauri was able to ensure success after testing matches under the hot African sun: "You can't rush around at 100 miles an hour when you play two matches in two days. It is really tough for the players."

The mini tournaments feature four countries at a time, who play two semi-finals on a Saturday with the winners then going onto play a final game 24 hours later. The first tournament was held in Mauritius in February with South Africa beating their hosts in the final. This weekend the Namibian capital Windhoek played host to Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the second of the three mini-tournaments.

Zimbabwe, albeit unable to call up any of their considerable legion of foreign-based players, were a cut above the rest and in the end cruised to the winner's podium. But they had to adjust their tactics to get through the endurance challenge.

"It is not ideal," says Mhlauri, "but then we are getting a chance to test our players' capacities and also to expose more of the fringe players in our national squad to international competition."

There were several new caps for Zimbabwe, as well as hosts Namibia and Mozambique, who had not played any international soccer for the last six months. Mozambique, in fact, are rebuilding their team under new coach Artur Semedo and certainly surprised by creating several chances to score early on. In the end, their lack of fitness counted against them and Zimbabwe scored three goals in the last 30 minutes of the first semi-final on Saturday to eliminate them from the competition.

"We only had four practice sessions so we have to be happy with our performance but my players really must learn to take their chances," said a visibly disappointed Semedo.

Mozambique's new league season has only just opened which was also a reason for their failure to sustain an attacking tempo throughout the 90 minutes.

Hosts Namibia then took on neighbours Botswana in the second match on Saturday, which proved a fast and furious encounter and which, in the end, had to be settled on penalties.
Botswana, currently competing in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, were expected to win but only secured their triumph in a dramatic finish.

Namibia's new captain Henrico Botes scored before half-time to give his country the lead and it was only in stoppage time at the end of the match that Moemedi Moatlhaping headed home a dramatic equaliser for the Zebras of Botswana.

So the result had to be settled on penalties and there were ecstatic celebrations for Botswana's large travelling support when goalkeeper Kagiso Tshelametsi made three dramatic saves in the shootout.
Botswana won 2-1 on kicks after the 1-1 stalemate and were back in action the next day in the final against Zimbabwe. But the toll of the previous nights' exertion was evident early on as Botswana battled to keep pace with the slick Zimbabweans.

"We learnt a lot and are grateful for the opportunity to play two games like this. It is good preparation for our World Cup qualifier against Tunisia in June," said Botswana coach Vesselin Jelusic.

Zimbabwe won Sunday's final 2-0 and now go through to the final mini-tournament in August along with defending champions Angola and South Africa. The last of the first round tournaments is to be played in Zambia in mid-June