The COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship has seen a few the region’s top stars pass through the competition over the years, providing the platform for an introduction to international football at an early age.
Some have gone on to have stellar careers, while others have faded into obscurity, unable to turn their talent into a professional career.
Here are five players who have gone on to shine after appearing in the tournament.
Buckley appeared in the inaugural 1994 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship and would go on to win 73 caps for Bafana Bafana in a superb career that included an appearance at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. He also played extensively in the German Bundesliga, including for Borussia Dortmund, as well as in Cyprus and back home at Maritzburg United.
Gutu was seen as a young prodigy and went on to play in Sweden, for a number of years, though he was without a club for some while after leaving Varnamo in August last year.
He has recently re-joined Dynamos in his homeland, where the 26-year-old will hope to reignite his career. He played at the 2007 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship and was a star for Zimbabwe in the tournament.
Another of South Africa’s stars, Lekoelea went by the name of Steve Motsiri when he turned out for the country in the 1994 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship.
he would spend a decade with top local club Orlando Pirates, where he was revered for his midfield skill, having begun his career with Moroka Swallows. He was 15 years, 257 days old when he debuted for Swallows, and became the league’s youngest scorer, aged 16 years, 7 days. Both records have since been beaten.
Lungi was a star of the Zambia junior set-up and would go on to have an influential senior international career that included lifting the Africa Cup of Nations title in 2012. That came five years after he was a star for Zambia at the 2007 COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship, and he would also spend eight successful seasons with Ural Yekaterinburg in Russia.
He also later joined Alanyaspor in Turkey and was most recently with Nkana FC as he works his way back from injury.
Ng’ambi is still going strong at the age of 33 after finishing as top-scorer in the 2001COSAFA Men’s Under-17 Championship. He is currently with Black Leopards in the South African Premier Soccer League, but also enjoyed a successful spell with Platinum Stars, where he won the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout. He has had an excellent career as a goal-scoring midfielder, and it is a surprise to many that he was not snapped up by bigger teams over the years.