The Cosafa Cup gets under way on Saturday in Durban‚ providing another opportunity for players to be blooded in international action.

It was hoped that Southern Africa’s regional championship would be used by the five Cosafa teams headed to the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) as a build-up to the showpiece competition‚ and while that is true to some extent‚ most will send second-string squads‚ while Angola and Madagascar have opted out altogether.

That does not devalue the Cosafa Cup in terms of its intended aim though — to provide competitive internationals to the region’s teams at a time when most would be inactive.

Zambia‚ Botswana‚ eSwatini‚ Comoros‚ Namibia‚ Mozambique‚ Lesotho‚ Mauritius and East Africa guest nation Uganda will use the tournament to fine-tune ahead of the African Nations Championship qualifiers in late July.

SA have largely sent the squad that will compete in the African Under-23 Championships in September‚ along with a few senior names that are still hoping to push for an Afcon squad place.

Zimbabwe will have their full squad for the opening games in Durban‚ though some will head to Nigeria for a friendly international on June 8.

So just about every side in Durban is there with a purpose and a plan‚ and that is before they think about lifting the trophy.

Angola’s late withdrawal‚ reportedly for financial reasons‚ means there are only seven sides in the first round‚ split into Group A with three teams and Group B with four.

eSwatini kick-off the tournament on Saturday when they clash with Mauritius at the King Zwelithini Stadium‚ with the Comoros Islands the third team in that pool.

Group B includes Mozambique‚ Namibia‚ Seychelles and Malawi‚ with the latter having named a number of their Premier Soccer League players such as BidVest Wits’ Gabadinho Mhango and Gerald Phiri Jnr‚ who spent last season on loan at Ajax Cape Town‚ but has played in the top-flight before.

The winner of each pool advances to the quarterfinals‚ where Zimbabwe await the winner of Group A and Zambia the top team in Group B.

SA’s squad‚ led by Under-23 coach David Notoane‚ will take on Botswana on June 2 for the fifth Cosafa Cup tournament in a row.

In 2015 they played to a 0-0 draw in the quarterfinals‚ with the Zebras claiming victory on post-match penalties.

SA then won 3-2 in the Cosafa Cup final in 2016‚ claimed a 2-0 success in the Plate semifinals a year later‚ as well as a 3-0 victory in the Plate final in Polokwane in 2018.

Lesotho and Uganda contest the other quarterfinal.

If SA  make it to the semifinals they will face the winner of the latter tie in the next stage.

The victors will move on in the cup competition‚ while for the losing sides‚ it will be the Plate semifinals‚ where they are guaranteed at least one additional game after making their way to Durban.

The final will be at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on June 8.