The COSAFA Castle Cup has over the years helped to develop some of the leading players ever to emerge from Southern African and has played a vital role in the growth of the game in the region.
Here are 10 top names who benefitted hugely from playing in the COSAFA Castle Cup early in their careers and would go on to become genuine star players for their country.
COLLIN BENJAMIN (NAMIBIA)
Benjamin played for Namibia in the 1998 COSAFA Castle Cup as a 20-year-old just beginning to make his name in the game at Windhoek side Civics. He moved to Germany the following year and within two seasons was playing in the Bundesliga with Hamburg, He spent over a decade at the club and later moved to 1860 Munich, where he had a stint as assistant coach before leaving in February 2016.
MANUEL ‘TICO-TICO’ BUCUANE (MOZAMBIQUE)
Lethal Mambas striker Tico-Tico was approaching his mid-20s by the time he played in the inaugural COSAFA Castle Cup in 1997, but it would prove a catalyst for a move that would shape the rest of his career. He was spotted by Premier Soccer League (PSL) club Jomo Cosmos and their owner Jomo Sono, and would go on to score over 100 goals in the South African top-flight, mostly for Ezenkosi, but also SuperSport United, Orlando Pirates and Maritzburg United. Before the COSAFA Castle Cup he was struggling to advance his career in the Portuguese league, where he played for second-tier Estrela da Amadora.
CHRIS KATONGO (ZAMBIA)
Katongo burst onto the scene in the COSAFA Castle Cup in 2003 and a year later followed the same route as Tico-Tico to Cosmos and ultimately on to Europe, as well as being appointed as skipper of his national side. He helped Chipolopolo win the 2012 African Nations Cup, some nine years after his debut in the COSAFA Castle Cup and has also still featured for Zambia in recent times.
Mateus Alberto Contreiras Gonçalves, Manucho for short, made an early impact for the national team in his debut year at the 2006 COSAFA Castle Cup, helping Angola to the final where they eventually lost 2-0 to Zambia. That was also the year the country played at the FIFA World Cup in Germany, though Manucho did not feature there. Within two years of playing at the COSAFA Castle Cup, the forward had won a dream move to English giants Manchester United. He still plays in the Spanish La Liga with Rayo Vallecano, but last played for the Angola national team in 2014.
DENNIS MASINA (SWAZILAND)
Masina is one of Swaziland’s greatest ever players and made his national team bow in the 1999 COSAFA Castle Cup. At the time he was playing for Manzini Wanderers in Swaziland, but soon his performances caught the eye of South African PSL side Bush Bucks. He later moved to Belgium, before returning to the PSL to play for Orlando Pirates and finally Mpumalanga Black Aces. He hit such heights in 2002 that he was linked with moves to Dutch side Feyenoord and English giants Tottenham Hotspur.
COLLINS MBESUMA (ZAMBIA)
Mbesuma first played for Zambia in 2003 and was part of their COSAFA Castle Cup squad that season, netting in his debut year. He returned for another go in 2005 and scored four times, his total tally of five the most for any Zambian player in a competition they have enjoyed so much success down the years. His early performances caught the eye of top South African side Kaizer Chiefs, where he netted 35 goals in the 2004/05 season. He still banging in the goals more than a decade later and is the leading scorer in the PSL this season, where he plays for Mpumalanga Black Aces.
TEKO MODISE (SOUTH AFRICA)
Modise would go on to become an icon of the South African game in the build-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but it all began for him in a national team jersey in the 2007 COSAFA Castle Cup when he turned out against Malawi. He scored twice in his next game against Mauritius from then on was a regular in the side and a real favourite with fans.
KATLEGO MPHELA (SOUTH AFRICA)
Mphela made an instant impact in his national team career when he scored twice on debut against Seychelles in the 2007 COSAFA Castle Cup, and then again in the very next match against Mauritius. It took him until 2009 to establish himself in the national team, but then hit a purple patch to become the third highest goal-scorer in Bafana Bafana history, a record he now shares with Bernard Parker.
BENJANI MWARUWARI (ZIMBABWE)
Mwarwari was already a Zimbabwe international by the time he played in the 2000 COSAFA Castle Cup, but had a magnificent tournament. Including a goal in the second leg of the final as the Warriors defeated Lesotho 3-0. He later became a real star at Jomo Cosmos in South Africa, and would go on to play for four years each in France’s Ligue 1 and the English Premier League.
DIPSY SELOLWANE (BOTSWANA)
Midfielder Selolwane made his national team bow for Botswana in the 1999 COSAFA Castle Cup and never looked back, spending the next 13 years in a Zebras jersey. He found most of his club success in South Africa’s PSL, but also played in Norway and the USA. He played in six COSAFA Castle Cup tournaments, the last in 2007.