The 2019 COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship is set to light up Zambia from December 4-14 in what will be the latest installment of the vital regional tournament that has been a breeding ground for so much Southern African talent down the years.
The tournament will be staged in Lusaka this year, the third season in a row in which Zambia have acted as gracious hosts, as South Africa aim for a hat-trick of titles after claiming victory in 2017 and 2018.
The COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship has proven vital down the years and played its part in developing new talent for the region in its many guises since it was first staged in 1983.
One of the recent stars to come through the finals is Zambia striker Patson Daka, who played a leading role for the Young Chipolopolo the last time they lifted the trophy in 2016.
Daka has since progressed through the ranks of Zambian football, playing for the Under-23 and senior national side, and is a star for his Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg.
He also helped Zambia to the 2017 African Under-20 Championships, where the country claimed their first continental trophy in this age-group.
Daka finished joint top-scorer in that competition and also walked away with the Player of the Tournament award.
He has previously spoken of the value of the COSAFA competitions, and how tough it is for players as they make their way in international football. “I would like to advise to be mentally and physically prepared in such a tournament,” Daka told Zambianfootball.co.zm.
“Every player should first put the teams glory ahead of personal glory and the rest will come in. They all must be team players with unity and love.
“Everyone wants to beat Zambia but that shouldn’t bring pressure on them, but they should take it as motivation to put in even more hard work and not succumb to pressure. They should just enjoy the games.”
Daka took plenty of lessons from the various COSAFA tournaments he has played in and is now reaping their rewards for Red Bull Salzburg. He has scored 10 goals in 16 appearances for his side this season, and played in the UEFA Champions League, including against current holders Liverpool.
While it would do him a disservice to suggest this would not have been possible without the influence of COSAFA tournaments, because there has been a lot of hard work, sweat and tears that have gone in to making him the player he is today, there is no doubt they have played a significant part.
And that is why COSAFA, which will host six tournaments this year – Men’s and Women’s Senior, Under-20 and Under-17 competitions, is a vital platform for the region.
For young players such as Daka to receive international exposure while still at Under-17 level is crucial to their development and would otherwise only come infrequently during continental qualifiers.
Daka is the latest in a long line of players to have travelled this road, and he will most certainly not be the last.
It will therefore be exciting to see who is the new ‘Patson Daka’ when the 2019 COSAFA Men’s Under-20 Championship is played.