The COSAFA Cup has for the past 24 years been the launchpad for the careers of Southern Africa’s top players, providing the perfect platform for them to showcase their talent.
This year’s event in Nelson Mandela Bay will be no different, as scouts from around the world keep an eye on games in the South African coastal city.
In the build-up to the 2021 event, we remember the Players of the Tournament in the last five editions and take a look at where they are now.
2015 – WANGU GOME (NAMIBIA)
Namibia were surprise winners of the 2015 COSAFA Cup as they romped to the title in South Africa’s North West province, their midfield ‘engine’ Wangu Gome playing a huge part in their success.
Born in Windhoek to an Angolan father, Gome was turning out for Civics in his homeland but lit up the COSAFA Cup with some magical displays as the Brave Warriors lifted the trophy for the first time.
That won him a move to BidVest Wits in the South African PSL, and although he found game-time hard to come by, was part of the squad that lifted the league title in the 2016/17 season.
He later moved to top-flight side Platinum Stars and then turned out for Cape Umoya United in the National First Division. The 28-year-old was most recently with Armenian side Alashkert Yerevan.
2016 – ONKABETSE MAKGANTAI (BOTSWANA)
Botswana reached the final of the COSAFA Cup in 2016 but lost out to South Africa, with their stand-out man undoubtedly Makgantai.
He has become a superb performer on the regional stage and was perhaps unlucky not to lift the trophy again in 2018 as he scored five goals to lead Botswana to the Plate decider.
After his exploits in 2016 he was signed by DR Congo giants AS Vita Club and spent some time in Kinshasa before moving to South African top-flight side Baroka FC for the 2018/19 campaign.
He was part of the side that stunned Orlando Pirates to lift the Telkom Knockout title during and has certainly used his COSAFA Cup exposure to further his career, though he is now back in Botswana with Orapa United.
2017 – KNOX MUTIZWA (ZIMBABWE)
Mutizwa edged compatriot Ovidy Karuru to the Player of the Tournament prize four years ago as he netted five goals to Karuru’s six as Zimbabwe cruised to the trophy win in South Africa.
The striker has gone from strength to strength since then, and was at the time already on the books of South African PSL side BidVest Wits.
He had spent six months on loan at Lamontville Golden Arrows and soon after made that move permanent. He still currently campaigns with Abafana Bes’thende and has scored 41 goals in 108 starts for the side.
His best season was in 2019/20 when he scored 13 league goals, including some spectacular strikes, and was among the leading scorers in the league.
He has been named again by Zimbabwe this year and will no doubt lead their attack.
2018 – AROHASINA ANDRIANARIMANANA (MADAGASCAR)
Andrianarimanana is more simply known as Dax, and was superb at the COSAFA Cup in 2018 with his box-to-box style of play and eye for goal.
That won him a move to South African giants Kaizer Chiefs, though it was not all smooth sailing as a protracted transfer battle with former side Fosa Juniors and injury limited his performances.
But he shone for the club in the second half of the 2018/19 season and later moved to Black Leopards. He left Lidoda Duvha in January 2021 and assigned for JS Saint-Pierroise in Reunion.
The 30-year-old would likely not have been known on a regional level were it not for the COSAFA Cup but has taken his chance superbly.
2019 – GERALD PHIRI JUNIOR (MALAWI)
Silky midfielder Phiri Jnr was the star man of the last edition as he drove Malawi forward with his goals and assists.
He is realizing the potential that many knew he had and he has continued that form into the South African Premier Soccer League season with Baroka FC.
The 28-year-old has travelled a long road and also turned out for South African clubs BidVest Wits, Platinum Stars and Ajax Cape Town, as well as Township Rollers in Botswana and CAPS United in Zimbabwe.
He is at the peak of his powers and remains a key man for Malawi and will feature at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon.