Cosafa Cup: A springboard for development

Zimbabwe are the record winners of the Cosafa Cup. The Warriors have won the regional showpiece six times— in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2017 and 2018.

Zimbabwe also hold the record for most wins in the tournament (35) and have reached the semi-finals 12 times.  They were runners up three times — in 1998, 2001 and 2013.

But for their glamorous history in the Cosafa Cup, the Warriors will miss out on the regional showpiece for the second year in succession because of the suspension imposed on the country by FIFA.

The world football governing body suspended Zimbabwe in February last year, for “third party interference” after the country’s sports regulatory body —the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC) —suspended the Felton Kamambo-led ZIFA executive for several violations, chief among them failure to account for public funds.

FIFA insists the sanction can only be lifted upon the unconditional reinstatement of the Kamambo-led administration.

The 22nd edition of the Cosafa Cup will be held in Durban, South Africa from 5-16 July. Talent scout and performance analyst Kudzai Chitima, described Zimbabwe’s absence from the annual tournament as a huge blow.

“The Cosafa Cup has been known to be a good talent development pathway as it provides a better scouting platform and players have gotten contracts from that.  Examples being that of (Gerald)Takwara and the most recent one being (Blessing) Sarupinda,” Chitima told Soccer24.

“It is a platform that coaches have always used to expose local talent to a bigger stage, so it is a very big blow for us as a nation,” he added.

Chitima believes Zimbabwe’s continued absence from the regional showpiece limits players’ opportunities to be signed by clubs from outside the country.

“It (the Cosafa Cup) would have given current young players a great opportunity to showcase their talent in front of scouts of top clubs and it was advantageous in that it coincides with the transfer window,” explained Chitima.

“Also, caps are useful in a player’s career, based on the fact that some clubs only sign international players and it would have really helped some players to get national team caps. Over the years, national team coaches have used to the Cosafa Cup to try out new combinations in preparation for major tournaments and Chitima insists not participating in the regional tournament is catastrophic.

“To the coaches, the Cosafa Cup would have given them a chance to assess their squads, try new combinations and gauge the level of quality at their disposal,” reckons Chitima.

Warriors midfielder Ovidy Karuru, who scored six goals for Zimbabwe at the 2017 edition of the Cosafa Cup and captained the country at the 2021 edition, believes missing out on the regional tournament two years in a row is a drawback as far as football development is concerned.

“I think missing the Cosafa Cup twice is a major setback for our development because it is not only for the senior team, but also for U-17s and U-20s as they are not getting opportunities to showcase their talent like we did,” said Karuru.

Ovidy Karuru tuscles for the ball with fellow Zimbabwe international Jimmy Dzingai during a training session at the National Sports Stadium in 2017. Picture: Soccer24 Zimbabwe 

“If they got that chance (to participate in the Cosafa Cup) they could earn contracts outside the country because you never know who comes to watch such developmental tournaments,” added the former AmaZulu man.

Retired former Warriors and Kaizer Chiefs forward Luke Petros Jukilile, who scored in both legs of the 2000 Cosafa Cup final against Lesotho, says the regional tournament was used as a stepping stone by young players in search of stardom and better opportunities.

“During our days, we used the Cosafa Cup as a springboard to market ourselves as players,” recalls Jukilile, who was the head coach of relegated WhaWha in the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League last season.

“A lot of teams in Africa looked for talent in the Cosafa Cup, which is why it was a very important tournament.

“If you look at myself, Alois Bunjira, Kaitano Tembo, Muzondiwa Mugadza, Kelvin Mushangazhike,  Tinashe Nengomasha and Esrom Nyandoro just but to mention a few,  we were all spotted during the Cosafa Cup,” he added.

Luke Petros scores a brilliant goal for Zimbabwe against Namibia, in the 2000 Cosafa Cup at the National Sports Stadium.  Video credit: Cosafa Media 

The former Lancashire Steel forward believes missing out on tournaments like Cosafa Cup is detrimental to the development of local football.

“It is a crippling and very damaging situation. If only we could get back into the international football community and take part in such tournaments,” lamented Jukulile.

“Some of us came from ‘small’ teams like Lancashire Steel —teams you wouldn’t expect to compete in inter-club competitions like the CAF Champions League, but because of the Cosafa Cup we got opportunities to play outside the country.

“I believe if we could take part in tournaments like the Cosafa Cup, we can develop and export many youngsters because we also went through the same process,” added Jukilile.

Zimbabwe needs to rethink strategy and put house in order, if we must develop our football and expose young talent to the world.

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