This year we celebrate the 21st edition of the COSAFA CUP with the first tournament having been staged in 1997.
It has been a competition to launch a galaxy of stars and been a vital component in the rich history of Southern African football down the years.
Here is a brief trip down memory lane as we look at how the tournament has evolved, and look forward to the next event in Durban from July 5-17.
1997 COSAFA CUP
Zambia were crowned inaugural champions of the COSAFA CUP after they claimed the 1997 event with top spot in the tournament mini-league.
The maiden Southern African championship featured nine sides, including East African guests Tanzania.
The format saw ‘quarterfinal’ matches played, with the four victors in those joining Tanzania in a round-robin competition. Chipolopolo would finish top of the pool and ensure they were regional champions for the year.
Botswana hosted Malawi in the first ever COSAFA CUP game on March 1, 1997 and it took just three minutes for the first goal to be scored, Aaron Lesupi giving the hosts the lead from the penalty spot inside three minutes.
But The Flames fought back after that and roared to a 4-1 success to book their place in the league phase.
Some 20 000 fans turned out the following day to watch Zambia down Lesotho 2-0 in Maseru, two goals within five first half minutes from Edward Kangwa and Mwape Miti good enough for Chipolopolo.
Mozambique star Adelino netted a hat-trick for The Mambas in their 4-0 quarterfinal win over Swaziland, while Namibia edged Zimbabwe 2-1 after extra-time with all three goals coming from the penalty spot!
Zambia ended the round-robin phase with eight points, followed by Namibia (six), Mozambique (five), Tanzania (three) and Malawi (two).
1998 COSAFA CUP
The 1998 COSAFA CUP saw the entry of South Africa and Angola for the first time, with the pair having missed the inaugural campaign due to their World Cup qualification commitments.
It was not a happy entry for Bafana Bafana though as they lost 3-2 in the first round to Namibia, a first-ever win for the Brave Warriors over their neighbours.
The other four quarterfinal matches went to form, Zambia advanced thanks to a 1-0 success in Malawi, while Zimbabwe eased past Lesotho 2-0.
Mozambique came from behind to win 2-1 in Botswana, Tico-Tico and Avelino with the goals, while Angola edged Swaziland 1-0.
That set up a five-team round-robin tournament between the remaining sides that started in April and ran through to September of that year.
Zambia again headed the table with eight points, followed by Zimbabwe (six), Angola (six), Namibia (five) and Mozambique (one).
1999 COSAFA CUP
The third installment of the COSAFA CUP was played in 1999 and for the first time was a knockout tournament from start to finish.
There were once again 10 competing nations, Zambia and Zimbabwe handed byes through to the quarterfinals having finished as the top two in the previous year’s tournament.
Namibia won their place in the final after beating South Africa and Swaziland and took on Angola.
The final was played over two legs, with the first in Luanda settled 1-0 in favour of Angola after a penalty from Betinho.
Eliphas Shivute brought Namibia level in the second leg in Windhoek, sending the tie into extra-time. But a goal from Zico after 101 minutes handed Angola the first of their three COSAFA CUP titles to date.
2000 COSAFA CUP
The fourth installment of the COSAFA CUP saw Zimbabwe claim a first ever title, one of four they would go on to win to date.
Seychelles and Madagascar had recently been inaugurated as COSAFA members, but not soon enough to be involved in this year’s competition as they were hindered by budgetary constraints.
Holders Angola looked to be heading for another final when Fabrice Akwa gave them the lead in their semifinal in Lesotho, but two goals in the final six minutes turn the match around for the hosts. Motlatsi Maseela and Teele Ntsonyana scored for them.
South Africa were then stunned 1-0 at home by a Kaitano Tembo goal for Zimbabwe and would have to wait another year for their first tournament win.
It set up a two-legged final between the Zimbabweans and Lesotho that was comfortably won by the former.
AN Eric Makara own goal and further strikes from William Mugeyi and Luke Petros gave Zimbabwe a 3-0 win in Maseru, before they won by the same margin in Harare in the second game. Luke Petros (penalty), Robson Chisango and Benjani Mwaruwari were on target on this occasion.
2001 COSAFA CUP
The fifth installment of the COSAFA CUP featured 11 Southern African countries and would again end in an Angolan victory, their second title.
Seychelles and Madagascar were missing once more as they battled with financial constraints, but all the usual big names were there to compete.
Zambia and Angola played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semifinal in Lusaka that ended with a 4-2 penalty shootout win for Palancas Negras. Fabrice Akwa had given Angola the lead, before Chaswe Nsofwa equalised for Zambia.
Zimbabwe had an easier time in getting past Malawi, winning 2-0 as Edzai Kasinauyo and Maxwell Dube scored for them.
The final was also played over two legs, with the first in Luanda ending in a 0-0 draw. Angola edged the second match 1-0 thanks to an 87th minute winner from Flavio amid scenes of great rapture.
2002 COSAFA CUP
South Africa won a maiden COSAFA CUP title in 2002, a tournament that also featured Madagascar for the first time. Seychelles were the only COSAFA member at the time who did not take part.
Malawi’s fine run through the tournament continued as they edged Zambia 1-0 in the semifinals, Esau Kanyenda with the goal, this time from the penalty-spot.
And South Africa found their scoring form as they defeated Swaziland 4-1, Tebeho Mokoena (two), Jabu Pule (now Mahlangu) and Stanton Fredericks hitting the back of the net. The 2017 COSAFA CUP Legend Siza Dlamini got a consolation for the Swazis.
That set up a two-legged final that was comfortably won by South Africa in the end, their 3-1 win in Blantyre in the first match setting up the victory.
Patrick Mayo (two) and Jimmy Kauleza scored for South Africa, while Malawi responded with a Patrick Mabedi penalty.
The second leg was won 1-0 by Bafana Bafana, a late goal from Benedict Vilakazi ensuring the trophy was theirs for the first time.
2003 COSAFA CUP
Zimbabwe would claim their second COSAFA CUP title in 2003 with a deserved success in another fine tournament.
There were two tantalising semifinals, with Malawi defeated Zambia 4-2 on penalties in the first. Russell Mwafulirwa put Malawi ahead, but Sashi Chalwe equalised with a minute to go. The Flames held their nerve in the shoot-out.
A brace from Peter Ndlovu against Swaziland put Zimbabwe into the two-legged decider, which in the end was won comfortably by the Warriors.
They claimed a 2-1 success in the first leg in Blantyre, Albert Mbano and Zvenyika Makonese putting them in command before Mwafulira pulled a late goal back. But the home leg was a 2-0 success in Harare a week later, Charles Yohane and Peter Ndlovu on the scoresheet.
2004 COSAFA CUP
Angola became the most successful country in COSAFA CUP history at the time when they won the 2004 edition of the competition – their third and to date last title triumph.
It was achieved with a run of four successive victories, when they eventually defeated Zambia in the final on penalties.
Both semifinals were tight affairs, with Angola edging Mozambique 1-0 in a battle of the Portuguese speaking nations. Flavio was on target for them.
Zimbabwe and Zambia played to a 0-0 draw in their tie that was eventually won 5-4 on penalties by Chipolopolo.
It set up just a single final meeting (previous years had home and away ties) in Lusaka that again would go to penalties, and Angola held their nerve to claim the victory and win 5-4.
2005 COSAFA CUP
The 2005 COSAFA CUP saw a change in format for the competition, with a group phase that comprised of three pools, each containing four sides.
The top teams in each section met in a semifinal, with the winner advancing to the final of the pool. The winners of the three groups then joined holders Angola in the semifinals which, along with the final, was held in Mafikeng in South Africa.
Zimbabwe defeated Angola in their semifinal 2-1. Love put Angola in the lead, but the Warriors struck back with goals from Francis Chandida and Sageby Sandaka to advance.
South Africa and Zambia played to a thrilling 2-2 draw before Chipolopolo advanced 9-8 in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
James Chamanga and Chris Katongo put Zambia in control, before Bafana Bafana hit back thanks to goals from Lungisani Ndlela and the late Abram Raselemane.
There were no further goals and it was Zambia who held their nerve in the shoot-out.
Zimbabwe claimed their third COSAFA CUP title in the final though, with a Chandida goal late on handing them a 1-0 victory over the Zambians.
2006 COSAFA CUP
The 2006 COSAFA CUP followed the same format as the previous year, with three first round groups deciding who would join holders Zimbabwe in the semifinals of the competition.
Zambia were also successful in their competition semifinal, defeating Botswana 1-0 thanks to a lone second half goal from Given Singuluma in Lusaka.
Angola booked their place in the final with an excellent 2-1 victory in Harare over Zimbabwe, Gazeta and Love scoring on either side of a strike from Francis Chandida for the home side.
That took the final to Lusaka, where Zambia eased to a 2-0 victory over Palancas Negras, Dube Phiri and Chaswe Nsofwa on target for them as they recorded their third COSAFA CUP triumph.
2007 COSAFA CUP
South Africa won the first of two successive COSAFA CUP titles in 2007, ending up victorious on home soil when they defeated Zambia in a penalty shoot-out in the final.
The semifinals were both held at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria, where Noah Chivuta, Emmanuel Mayuka and William Njovu handed Zambia an easy 3-0 win against Mozambique.
Teko Modise gave South Africa a much more slender 1-0 success over Botswana.
The final was staged a week later in Bloemfontein and after a 0-0 draw, South Africa triumphed 4-3 on penalties to claim their second COSAFA CUP title.
2008 COSAFA CUP
The 2008 COSAFA CUP was a tournament of firsts and ended with hosts South Africa lifting the coveted trophy for the second time in succession, and third time overall.
It was the first time the tournament had been played as a single event, in one country and over a period of weeks. There was also a maiden appearance for the Comoros Islands, who had seen financial troubles scupper their hopes of appearing in the past.
The field for the event was also therefore extended to 14 teams, the most who had ever competed in the competition.
The semifinals produced two more close encounters, with South Africa edging Zambia thanks to a goal from Lefa Tsutsulupa, while Mozambique were 2-1 winners over Madagascar.
Tico-Tico and Momed Hagy scored either side of a Praxis Rabemananjara goal for the Malagasy.
The final at the Thulamahashe Stadium was won 2-1 by South Africa, with Marchelino Fransch getting a brace. Nito scored late on for the Mambas, but it was to be the home side’s night.
2009 COSAFA CUP
Zimbabwe claimed a record fourth COSAFA CUP title when they won on home soil in 2009. The Warriors were worthy winners of the event that was staged in Harare and Bulawayo over two weeks.
The only member of the COSAFA nations missing from the tournament was Madagascar, who did not enter.
There was a huge semifinal meeting between Zimbabwe and South Africa that finished 1-1, Lennox Bacela giving Bafana the lead, before Phillip Marufu equalised for the home side. The match went to penalties and Zimbabwe held out for a 3-2 success.
Zambia beat Mozambique 2-0 in their semifinal Hichani Himoonde and Felix Sunzu on the scoresheet for Chipopololo.
The final in Harare was a hard-fought affair, but Zimbabwe eventually triumphed 3-1 thanks to goals from Nyasha Mushekwi (two) and Cuthbert Malajila. Henry Banda got a consolation for Zambia.
2013 COSAFA CUP
Zambia emerged as winners of the 2013 COSAFA CUP, a tournament they hosted, to join Zimbabwe on four victories in the regional championship.
The 13-team field included guest nation Kenya, who filled in after Comoros Islands and Madagascar chose not to participate. The format was the same as the 2009 event, with two first round groups, the winners of which advanced to the quarterfinals.
The semifinals were also closely fought. Zimbabwe came from an early goal down to beat Lesotho 2-1. Motlalepula Mofolo had put Lesotho ahead, but Tendai Ndoro bagged a brace of goals to swing the game in Zimbabwe’s favour.
South Africa and Zambia could not be separated after 120 minutes and went to a penalty shoot-out that was eventually won by the home side 5-3.
It set up a repeat of the 2009 final, but this time Zambia ran out winners as Alex N’gonga’s excellent early goal put them on the front foot and Kabasa Chongo added a second late on to seal the win.
2015 COSAFA CUP
The tournament was staged in South Africa’s North West province and at long last produced a fifth different winner of the COSAFA CUP as Namibia claimed a maiden triumph.
And they did it the hard way, going through the first round pool stages and then the knockout format to play six games in 14 days.
Namibia edged Madagascar 3-2 in a thrilling semifinal in which Benson Shilongo had them 2-0 up, before Sarivahy Vombola scored twice in two minutes to level for the Malagasy. Peter Shalulile grabbed a winner seven minutes from time.
Mozambique won the other semifinal 2-1 as Isac and Parkim scored for them against Botswana, for who Omaatla Kebatho netted what proved to be a consolation.
Deon Hotto bagged a brace of goals in the final as Namibia triumphed 2-0, to set off wild scenes of celebration.
2016 COSAFA CUP
Following their win the previous year, there was another ‘first’ for Namibia as they hosted the tournament as champions.
South Africa would join Zambia and Zimbabwe on four wins each as they defeated Botswana 3-2 in the final.
The South Africans hit form in their semi when they defeated in-form Swaziland 5-1 thanks to goals from Thabiso Kutumela, Lebogang Phiri, Menzi Masuku (two) and Judas Moseamedi. Veteran Tony Tsabedze scored a consolation for the Swazis.
Botswana booked their place in the final with a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over guest nation DR Congo after their semi finished 0-0.
South Africa profited from two penalties in the decider, both scored by Gift Motupa, while Kutumela for their other goal. Onkabetse Makgantai and Kabelo Seakanyeng netted for Botswana.
2017 COSAFA CUP
Zimbabwe claimed their first COSAFA Cup title in eight years as they romped to the title in Rustenburg in the South African province of the North West.
They defeated old foes Zambia in the final to move to a record five tournament wins, the 3-1 scoreline a reflection of their dominance that had been there throughput the competition.
It was a tournament in which a number of their players shone, not least Ovidy Karuru (six), Knox Mutizwa (five) and Ocean Mashure (four), who were the top three goalscorers that year.
The Warriors put sic goals past Seychelles, and four each past Mozambique and Lesotho in a stunning display.
East African guest nation Tanzania won the bronze medal after they edged Lesotho on penalties, while South Africa won the Plate competition after they had been ousted in the quarterfinals by the Taifa Stars.
2018 COSAFA CUP
Zimbabwe extended their record number of victories in the COSAFA CUP to six as they again beat Zambia in the decider of the 2018 tournament in Limpopo, South Africa.
The final, arguably the best ever in the competition, had been locked at 2-2 after a see-saw battle in the 90 minutes, before Zimbabwe eventually triumphed 4-2.
Lazarous Kambole scored a brace for Zambia, while there were also two goals each for the Zimbabwe duo of Khama Billiat and Tino Kadawere.
Lesotho claimed the bronze medal with a 1-0 win over Madagascar in their play-off match, the latter having shocked hosts South Africa in the quarterfinals on penalties.
The home side would go on to retain the Plate trophy with a 3-0 win over Botswana in the decider.
The Zebras had been among the most exciting sides to watch in the competition and were unlucky to lose on penalties to Zimbabwe in the quarterfinals.
2019 COSAFA CUP
Zimbabwe’s stranglehold on the trophy was finally broken as Zambia regained the title they had last won in 2013 when the COSAFA Cup was played in the South African coastal city of Durban.
They did so by edging a powerful Zimbabwe side in the semifinals, winning on penalties in a 0-0 draw, and then going on to beat Botswana 1-0 in the decider thanks to a winner from Tapson Kaseba.
Zimbabwe got some consolation with the bronze medal as they edged Lesotho on penalties following a 2-2 draw. It was the third year in a row that Lesotho had made the semifinals.
Hosts South Africa again lost in the semifinals, going down on penalties to Botswana, but claimed a hat-trick of titles in the Plate competition as they edged Malawi on spot-kicks in the final.
The Comoros made the quarterfinals for the first time as they won their three-team pool. They lost 2-0 to Zimbabwe in the knockout stages though.
2021 COSAFA CUP
The COVID-19 pandemic meant there was no tournament played in 2020, but the action returned in 2021 as the competition was staged in Gqeberha, South Africa.
Ten teams took part, including invited guests Senegal, who brought some west African flavour to proceedings.
There was a change of format to two groups of five teams each, with South Africa and Eswatini booking their semifinal places from Group A. Defending champions Zambia had a surprise first round exit after winning only one of their four games.
Senegal and Mozambique were the two sides that advanced from Group B, the latter only edging Namibia on their head-to-head record.
Senegal defeated Eswatini in the Last 4, though they needed penalties to do it after the teams played to a thrilling 2-2 draw. South Africa beat Mozambique 3-0 in the other semi.
Eswatini edged the Mambas to the bronze medal with a 4-2 shoot-out win after their third-place play-off ended 1-1.
The final also went to penalties and South Africa and Senegal could not be separated, but it was Bafana Bafana who claimed a fifth regional title after winning the shoot-out 5-4.
Remarkably, they went through the entire tournament without conceding a goal.