A star is born at the COSAFA Castle Cup – Benjani Mwaruwari

One of the leading strikers to come out of the Southern African region in the last two decades was the Zimbabwe Benjani Mwaruwari … and it all began for him at the COSAFA Castle Cup, a true tournament of discovery.

The striker used the regional championship to raise his profile and would eventually make his way to Europe where he played in the top leagues in Switzerland, France and England, before finishing his career in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL).

He was much admired wherever he went and would feature in four COSAFA Castle Cup tournaments between 1999 and 2002, even getting on the scoresheet in the final as he helped Zimbabwe to glory.

But he was a little know forward when he played the first of those, turning out for local side Air Zimbabwe Jets.

But soon afterwards he was snapped up by South African side Jomo Cosmos, where he would be an instant hit in the PSL and form a close connection to club owner Jomo Sono that still exists today.

Mwaruwari made his COSAFA Castle Cup debut against Swaziland in July 1999 but it was a day that would end in disappointment as the match finished 1-1 and the Swazis claimed the penalty shoot-out 4-3.

He had a much better time of it the following year, helping Zimbabwe defeat South Africa 1-0 in the semifinals to set up a deciding match against Lesotho.

Mwaruwari played both legs of the final and netted in the second of those as Zimbabwe completed a 6-0 aggregate success to win their first COSAFA Castle Cup title.

He would play in the final the following year too, though this time there was a very different outcome as he received a red card against Angola and Zimbabwe lost 1-0.

He had already moved to Europe by the time he played in the 2002 COSAFA Castle Cup and could not help his side avoid a shock 2-0 loss to Swaziland in the quarterfinals.

From there the career of Mwaruwari only went on to greater heights.

He was playing for Swiss side Grasshoppers on loan from Jomo Cosmos in the 2001/02 campaign and caught the eye of famed French coach Guy Roux at Auxerre.

He moved to Ligue 1 and spent four successful seasons in France, before moving to England to play for Portsmouth, the first of two spells with the south coast club.

His 2007/08 season at the club was is best and that prompted Manchester City to make a move for him in the second half of that campaign.

He also had spells at Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers and back at Portsmouth, before opting to join Chippa United and later BidVest Wits in the PSL.

He retired from football after the 2013/14 season having been a star for club and country, his 10 years in Europe in no small part thanks to the exposure he got at the COSAFA Castle Cup.