Stage set for another COSAFA Under-20 rollercoaster show
By Robson Sharuko
Harare – Last year, the COSAFA Under-20 Championships provided the stage for the showcasing of the talents of three of the region’s emerging football stars – Patson Daka and Fashion Sakala of Zambia and Luther Singh of South Africa – who have gone on to forge their careers in Europe.
Daka and Sakala inspired Zambia to their record-breaking 11th regional Under-20 title in South Africa, after beating the hosts 2-1 in the final, in a tournament in the latter scored four goals while Singh won the Golden Boot after scoring five goals in his breakthrough tournament for the South Africans.
The pacy Daka scored twice but then exploded on the big stage of the CAF Under-20 Cup of Nations, hosted by the Zambians, as he was voted the best player of the tourney after guiding the Junior Chipolopolo to their maiden title at this level of the game.
Although he scored the same number of goals (four) as Singh at the CAF Under-20 Cup of Nations, the South African was handed the Golden Boot award for also providing two assists at the tournament.
Zambian goalkeeper Mangani Banda, defender Solomon Sakala, midfielders Edward Chilufya and Sakala and strikers Daka and Singh were named in the CAF Under-20 Cup Nations Best XI squad.
Sakala and Daka’s golden season continued as they helped power Zambia to the quarter-finals of the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea where the Junior Chipolopolo topped their group after beating Portugal 2-1, with Sakala scoring one of the goals, in their first match of the tournament.
They then took their game a gear up in a 4-2 thrashing of Iran, with Sakala and Daka on target, before closing their group campaign with a controversial 0-1 defeat at the hands of Costa Rica.
However, the Zambians showed their pedigree in the Round of 16 match against European powerhouse Germany as they eliminated the giants 4-3 after extra-time, in one of the best games of the tournament, with Sakala again one of the scorers.
They looked on course to reach the semi-finals after Sakala gave them a 2-1 lead in their quarter-final showdown against Italy, with Daka having opened the scoring for the Zambians, only for Frederico Dirmarco to score an 88th minute equaliser for the Italians who then won the game 3-2 after extra-time.
Sakala’s four goals at the World Cup saw him finish second in the race for the Golden boot which was won by Riccardo Orsolini of Italy with five goals to his credit.
The South Africans were not that successful at the 2017 FUFA Under-20 World Cup where they lost 1-2 to Japan, 0-2 to Italy before ending their adventure with a goalless draw against Uruguay.
Daka, Sakala and Singh have since moved to Europe and Daka is at Austrian side FC LIefering while Sakala joined Russian giants Spartak Moscow and Singh is now at Portuguese side Braga.
Now, after the fireworks provided by the Class of 2016, which provided three of the players who illuminated the CAF and FIFA Under-20 Championships this year, the COSAFA Under-20 Championships return next month with the organisers taking the tournament to the Copperbelt in Zambia.
Uganda and Egypt will be the guest nations at this year’s tournament while Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe will be representing the region at the tournament.
The Copperbelt is widely considered to be the home of football in Zambia given that the region has, in the past, provided the country with some of its best football stars, including the legendary Kalusha Bwalya who is widely regarded the country’s finest footballer of all-time.
The tournament will run from December 6 to 16.
“The 2017 COSAFA Under-20 Championships are set to light up Zambia from December 6-16 in what will be the latest instalment of the vital regional tournament that has been a breeding ground for so much Southern African talent down the years,” the organisers said on their official website.
“The tournament will be staged in Kitwe as defending champions Zambia seek to retain the title they won in South Africa last year, the start of a magnificent run for the side that saw them also later crowned African champions and star at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
“They will likely have a new wave of talent for the coming tournament, as will most sides in the region as they look to build for future continental finals. In that regard, the COSAFA Under-20 Championship is vital and has played its part in its many guises down the years.
“Running through the list of past stars to grace the finals, it reads like a Who’s Who of Southern African football and all will have benefitted from the exposure they got to top level competition.
“From a South African perspective, the likes of Itumeleng Khune, Lerato Chabangu, Daine Klate, Elrio van Heerden and Lebohang Mokoena all represented their country at this level and gone on to forge successful club and international careers.
“Other young stars such as Clifford Mulenga and Isaac Chansa (both Zambia), Tinashe Nengomasha and Onismor Bhasera (both Zimbabwe), as well as Jimmy Zakazaka (Malawi), have used the tournament to persuade clubs outside of their country that they have a bright future in the game.
“The tournament was first played in 1983, but was a little-recognised get-together of a few of the stalwarts of the region, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana. The Apartheid practices of South Africa at the time meant they were excluded, and only entered the fray for the first time in 1993.
“Those early years were dominated by the ‘Two Zs’, with Zambia winning six and Zimbabwe three of the first nine tournaments held. South Africa were the first team to break the mould when they triumphed in 2000, having been losing finalists in 1995 and 1999.”
COSAFA general-secretary, Sue Destombes, believes everything will be in place by the time the tournament gets underway and has hailed the Local Organising Committee for the shift they have put in to prepare for the tourney.
The Arthur Davies Stadium and Nkana Stadium will stage the group stages of the tournament with the final likely to be held at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.
“The clubs and owners of the Arthur Davies Stadium and Nkana Stadium are to be complemented for the manner in which these facilities are maintained,” Destombes said in comments carried by the COSAFA website.
“COSAFA used both of these venues during the 2013 COSAFA Castle Cup and of course these teams play high-level football in Zambia and regularly participate in CAF Inter-Club competitions, so we expected nothing less than the good facilities which we found four years later.
“Arthur Davies have embarked on the upgrade of their floodlights and we have been assured that this work will be completed before the start of the COSAFA Under-20 Championships. Minor maintenance works are required at Nkana Stadium but in general both venues are ready to host the tournament.”